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INTRODUCTION . , . . ... vii 


WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE (1756) ,i * , ?< , .\* i 

PREFACE TO SHAKESPEARE (1765) . . . x^ . */;; " 


The Tempest . .*.''. V '. . . 64 

A Midsummer-Night's Dream . . .,. 67 

The Two Gentlemen of Verona . . . 72 

Measure for Measure 75 

The Merchant of Venice . '. ...' ". 81 

As You Like It . \ \ .'. .. " f . "" . 83 

Love's Labour 's Lost 86 

The Winter's Tale . *. I-". " ' / . " % 89 

Twelfth Night . '.. . . . , -^ 9 1 

The Merry Wives of Windsor . . . '* 93 

The Taming of the Shrew ' . . ' . ~ . . 95 

The Comedy of Errors 97 

Much Ado about Nothing . . ( . . 97 

All's Well that Ends Well. . ;- : .- . , ; - . 99 

King John . .... . . . 103 

v Richard II . . ... . . . no 

The First Part of King Henry IV . . . 113 


NOTES ON THE PLAYS (continued) : PAGE 

i/The Second Part of King Henry IV . . .119 
The Life of King Henry V . . . .126 
The First Part of King Henry VI . . .134 
The Second Part of King Henry VI . . .136 
The Third Part of King Henry VI . . . 140 
The Life and Death of King Richard III . . 146 
The Life of King Henry VIII .... 148 
King Lear ........ 154 

Timon of Athens -.163 

Titus Andronicus 1 66 

Macbeth 167 

Coriolanus 177 

Julius Caesar .179 

^x Antony and Cleopatra . . . V" "' 179 

Cymbeline , 181 

Troilus and Cressida 184 

Romeo and Juliet 185 

Hamlet 189 

Othello 197 

The Rambler No. 168 (POETRY DEBASED BY MEAN 



THE history of Johnson's dealings with Shakespeare 
extends over the greater part of his working life. An 
edition of Shakespeare was the earliest of his larger 
literary schemes. In 1745, when he was earning a 
scanty living by work for the booksellers, he published 
a pamphlet entitled Miscellaneous Observations on 
the Tragedy of Macbeth, with remarks on Sir T. H.'s 
(Sir Thomas Hanmer's) Edition of Shakespeare. To 
this pamphlet, says Boswell, he affixed proposals for 
a new edition by himself. He had certainly announced 
these proposals in the advertisements, but no copy of 
the pamphlet can be found which contains them. It 
seems likely that after he had advertised his intention, 
he was discouraged, and changed his mind. When he 
first thought of editing Shakespeare, he believed that 
he had only Rowe and Pope and Theobald to contend 
with and to supersede. Then, while his notes on 
Macbeth were in the press, Hanmer's edition appeared, 
and it became known to him that the great Warburton 
was engaged on the same task. Johnson allowed the 
specimen of his projected edition to go forward, but 
probably did not print any formal proposals. If any 
were printed, they are lost. The proposals of 1756 
cannot have been written at this earlier date, for in 
them Johnson speaks, with a certain pride, of his 
labours on the Dictionary. * With regard,' he says, 


c to obsolete or peculiar diction, the editor may perhaps 
claim some degree of confidence, having had more 
motives to consider the whole extent of our language 
than any other man from its first formation.' But 
the Dictionary was not planned until the scheme for 
an edition of Shakespeare had broken down. It was 
necessary for Johnson, if he was to raise himself above 
the crowd of venal writers, to inscribe his name on 
some large monument of scholarship. Shakespeare 
was his first choice ; when, perhaps through the 
timidity of the booksellers, that failed him, he turned 
his attention to Shakespeare's language, and in 1747 
issued the Plan for a Dictionary, which he addressed 
to the Earl of Chesterfield. 

The Dictionary was finished in 1755, and Johnson, 
compelled to find some new means of livelihood, 
returned to Shakespeare. Warburton's edition had in 
the meantime been added to the list of his rivals, 
but his own confidence had increased and his fame was 
established. The Proposals for Printing the Dramatick 
Works of William Shakespeare, which he issued in 1756, 
are magnificent in their range and discernment. The 
whole duty of a Shakespearian commentator and critic 
is here, for the first time, expounded. The complete 
collation of the early editions ; the tracing of Shake- 
speare's knowledge to its sources ; the elucidation of 
obscurities by a careful study of the language and 
customs of Shakespeare's time ; the comparison of 
Shakespeare's work with that of other great poets, 
ancient and modern all this and more is promised 


in the Proposals. He seems to have hoped that his 
edition would be final, and in order to give it that 
character he promised to reprint all that seemed 
valuable in the notes of earlier commentators. The 
whole project breathes that warm air of imagination 
in which authors design extensive and laborious works. 
It is possible, but not likely, that he set to work at 
once on the edition. He originally promised that it 
should be published in December, 1757. When 
December came, he mentioned March, 1758, as the 
date of publication. In March he said that he 
should publish before summer. On June 27 of the 
same year Dr. Grainger wrote to Dr. Percy, ' I have 
several times called on Johnson to pay him part of 
your subscription. I say, part, because he never 
thinks of working if he has a couple of guineas in his 
pocket ; but if you notwithstanding order me, the 
whole shall be given him at once.' Perhaps it was 
after one of these calls that Johnson, stimulated to 
unusual effort, wrote to Thomas Warton, on June I, 
1758, * Have you any more notes on Shakespeare ? 
I shall be glad of them.' Five years later a young 
bookseller waited on him with a subscription, and 
modestly asked that the subscriber's name should be 
inserted in the printed list. * I shall print no list of 
subscribers ; ' said Johnson, with great abruptness : 
then, more complacently, * Sir, I have two very cogent 
reasons for not printing any list of subscribers ; one, 
that I have lost all the names, the other, that I have 
spent all the money.' This magnanimous confession 


almost bears out the charge brought against him by 
Churchill in his satire, The Ghost, published in the 
spring of 1762 : 

He for subscribers baits his hook, 

And takes their cash ; but where 's the book ? 

No matter where ; wise fear, we know, 

Forbids the robbing of a foe ; 

But what, to serve our private ends, 

Forbids the cheating of our friends? 

There is no evidence that Johnson was in any way 
perturbed by Churchill's attack, yet it was the 
means of hastening the long-deferred edition. ' His 
friends,' says Hawkins, * more concerned for his reputa- 
tion than himself seemed to be, contrived to entangle 
him by a wager, or some other pecuniary engagement, 
to perform his task within a certain time.' In 1764 
and 1765, according to Boswell's account, he was so 
busily engaged with the edition as to have little leisure 
for any other literary exertion. That is to say, he 
worked at it intermittently, and satisfied his conscience, 
after the manner of authors, by working at nothing 
else. In October, 1765, at last appeared The Plays 
of William Shakespeare, in Eight Volumes, with the 
Corrections and. Illustrations of Various Commentators ; 
To which are added Notes by Sam. Johnson. He had 
spent nine years on the work, but a longer delay would 
have been amply justified by the Preface alone, which 
Adam Smith styled c the most manly piece of criticism 
that was ever published in any country '. 

There is nothing singular or strange in this chapter 


of literary history. The promises of authors are like 
the vows of lovers ; made in moments of careless 
rapture, and subject, during the long process of 
fulfilment, to all kinds of unforeseen dangers and 
difficulties. Of these difficulties Johnson has left 
his own account in the Life of Pope. ' Indolence, 
interruption, business, and pleasure,' he says, ' all take 
their turns of retardation ; and every long work is 
lengthened by a thousand causes that can, and ten 
thousand that cannot be recounted. Perhaps no 
extensive and multifarious performance was ever 
effected within the term originally fixed in the 
undertaker's mind. He that runs against time has 
an antagonist not subject to casualties.' Something 
steadier and more habitual than the fervour of the 
projecting imagination is required to carry through 
a long piece of editorial work. This more constant 
motive was supplied to Johnson by necessity. He did 
not pretend to write for pleasure. In a letter to his 
friend Hector, announcing the new edition of 
Shakespeare, he says : * The proposals and receipts 
may be had from my mother, to whom I beg you to 
send for as many as you can dispose of, and to remit 
to her the money which you or your acquaintances 
shall collect.' In January, 1759, his mother died, and 
he wrote Rasselas in the evenings of one week, to 
defray the expenses of her funeral, and to pay some 
little debts which she had left. The famous saying, 
4 No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for 
money,' may thus be regarded as the voice of his 


own hard experience, but it is something more than 
that. It is Johnson's brief and epigrammatic state- 
ment of the unvarying relation between author and 
publisher. Though it has been cried out against 
as a wilful paradox, it is the creed of the professional 
author in all countries and at all times. Young poets 
may be satisfied with fame, rich amateurs with 
elegance, missionaries and reformers with influence. 
But the publisher who should depend for his livelihood 
on the labours of these three classes would be in 
a poor way, and indeed, if publishers would com- 
municate to the world an account of their intimate 
transactions, they could tell how the author who is 
content with reputation for his first book talks of 
nothing but money when he comes to proffer his 
second. He has learnt wisdom. Only vapid senti- 
ment can quarrel with Johnson's view, if his words 
be taken as he meant them. A publisher of books 
gains his livelihood by selling to the public that 
which the public wants, and the man who supplies 
him with the coveted merchandise, yet scorns to 
think of the price, is not inaptly described, in the 
rude vocabulary of colloquial psychology, as a block- 
head. The dignity of literature, the high claims of 
the imagination, the call to advance knowledge and 
quicken thought these things also are often regarded 
by the good publisher. They are still oftener regarded 
by the good author ; they are the motives of his 
work ; and they make of him a bad servant. But 
why should he talk of these thingi-in the market- 


place, where he comes only to ask money for the supply 
of that which is sought that it may be sold for money ? 
The vanity of authors, encouraged by the modesty of 
their employers and the superstition of the public, has 
imposed a kind of religious jargon on a purely com- 
mercial operation. If there are qualities in literature 
which are above price, these are also to be found in 
the world of manufacture and finance in that huge 
pyramid of loyalty which is modern industry, and that 
vast network of fidelity which is modern commerce. 
Yet iron-founders and cotton-brokers do not, in dis- 
cussing the operations of their profoundly beneficent 
trades, express themselves wholly in terms of genius 
and virtue. 

The later history of Johnson's Shakespeare is soon 
told. It was received, says Boswell, ' with high appro- 
bation by the publick,' and after passing into a second 
edition, was in 1773 republished by George Steevens, 
e a gentleman not only deeply skilled in ancient learning, 
and of very extensive reading in English literature, 
especially the early writers, but at the same time 
of acute discernment and elegant taste.' Dr. Birkbeck 
Hill throws some doubt on Steevens's claims to taste. 
It was Steevens who praised Garrick for producing 
Hamlet with alterations, ' rescuing that noble play 
from all the rubbish of the fifth act ' ; and who 
recommended that the condemned passages should be 
presented, as a kind of epilogue, in a farce to be 
entitled The Grave-Diggers ; with the pleasant Humours 
of Osric, the Danish Macaroni. But Steevens deserves 


praise for his antiquarian industry and knowledge. 
To procure him all possible assistance Johnson wrote 
letters to Dr. Farmer of Emmanuel College and to 
both the Wartons. He was frequently consulted by 
Steevens, but the extent of his own contributions is 
best stated by himself in his letter to Farmer : ' I have 
done very little to the book.' He never took kindly 
to the labours of revision ; and his first edition remains 
the authoritative text of his criticism. 

His work on Shakespeare gave Johnson as good an 
opportunity as he ever enjoyed for exercising what he 
believed to be his chief literary talent. ' There are 
two things,' he once said to Sir Joshua Reynolds, 
c which I am confident I can do very well : one is an 
introduction to any literary work, stating what it is 
to contain, and how it should be executed in the 
most perfect manner ; the other is a conclusion 
showing from various causes why the execution has 
not been equal to what the authour promised to 
himself and to the publick.' The first of these things 
he did to admiration in his Proposals ; the second he 
attempts in some parts of his Preface. It is plain that 
he had not been able to do as much as he had hoped 
by way of restoration and illustration, but it is no less 
plain that he took pleasure in the accomplished work. 
Macaulay's statement that * it would be difficult to 
name a more slovenly, a more worthless, edition of 
any great classic ', has nothing but emphasis to com- 
mend it. Its author was the inventor of that other 
tedious paradox, that Johnson's mind was a strange 



composite of giant powers and low prejudices. 1 A 
wiser man than Macaulay, James Boswell, had already 
answered Macaulay's condemnation, which is even 
better answered in Johnson's own words : * I have 
endeavoured to perform my task with no slight 
solicitude. Not a single passage in the whole work 
has appeared to me corrupt, which I have not en- 
deavoured to restore ; or obscure, which I have not 
endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have failed 
like others ; and from many, after all my efforts, I have 
retreated, and confessed the repulse.' Johnson is the 
most punctiliously truthful of all English writers, and 
from this statement there is no appeal. If his notes 
are not so considerable in bulk as those of some of his 
fellow critics it is because he had not, like Warburton, 
' a rage for saying something when there was nothing 
to be said.' It is true that his knowledge of Elizabethan 
literature and Elizabethan manners cannot compare 
with the knowledge of Theobald before him or of 
Malone after him. It is true also that he undertook 
no special course of study with a view to his edition. 
He had read immensely for the Dictionary, but the 
knowledge of the English language which he had 
thus acquired was not always serviceable for a different 
purpose. In some respects it was even a hindrance. 
Johnson's Dictionary was intended primarily to 

1 ' Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce to the 
vehemence of the agency ; when the truth to be investigated 
is so near to inexistence, as to escape attention, its bulk is to be 
enlarged by rage and exclamation.' Johnson, Preface to Shake- 


furnish a standard of polite usage, suitable for the 
classic ideals of the new age. He was therefore 
obliged to forego the use of the lesser Elizabethans, 
whose authority no one acknowledged, and whose 
freedom and extravagance were enemies to his purpose. 
But for all this, and even in the explanation of archaic 
modes of expression, he can hold his own with the 
best of his rivals and successors. Most of the really 
difficult passages in Shakespeare are obscure not from 
the rarity of the words employed, but from the con- 
fused and rapid syntax. Johnson's strong grasp of 
the main thread of the discourse, his sound sense, and 
his wide knowledge of humanity, enable him, in a hun- 
dred passages, to go straight to Shakespeare's meaning, 
while the philological and antiquarian commentators 
kill one another in the dark, or bury all dramatic life 
under the far-fetched spoils of their learning. A 
reader of the new Variorum edition of Shakespeare 
soon falls into the habit, when he meets with an 
obscure passage, of consulting Johnson's note before 
the others. Whole pages of complicated dialectic and 
minute controversy are often rendered useless by the 
few brief sentences which recall the reader's attention 
to the main drift, or remind him of some perfectly 
obvious circumstance. 

It must not be forgotten that Johnson was, after 
all, a master of the English language. He was not an 
Elizabethan specialist, but his brief account of the 
principal causes of Shakespeare's obscurities has never 
been bettered. Some of these obscurities are due to 


the surreptitious and careless manner of publication ; 
some to the shifting fashions, and experimental licence 
of Elizabethan English. In a few terse sentences 
Johnson adds an account of those other obscurities 
which belong to the man rather than to the age. 
* If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers, 
it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which 
required the use of common colloquial language, and 
consequently admitted many phrases allusive, elliptical 
and proverbial ; ... to which might be added the 
fullness of idea, which might sometimes load his 
words with more sentiment than they could con- 
veniently carry, and that rapidity of imagination which 
might hurry him to a second thought before he had 
fully explained the first. But my opinion is, that 
very few of his lines were difficult to his audience, and 
that he used such expressions as were then common, 
though the paucity of contemporary writers makes 
them now seem peculiar.' Let this be compared with 
what Coleridge, nearly eighty years later, has to say 
on the same question : ' Shakespeare is of no age. 
It is idle to endeavour to support his phrases by 
quotations from Ben Jonson, Beaumont and Fletcher, 
&c. His language is entirely his own, and the younger 
dramatists imitated him. ... I believe Shakespeare was 
not a whit more intelligible in his own day, than he is 
now to an educated man, except for a few local allusions 
of no consequence.' In so far as Coleridge seems to 
allude to Shakespeare's very characteristic style, his 
remarks are true. In so far as he is speaking of the 


wider problem of language, the verdict of modern 
Shakespearian scholars is wholly on Johnson's side. 

These extracts from two great critics are here 
compared because they show that Johnson's work on 
Shakespeare has not been superseded. He has been 
neglected and depreciated ever since the nineteenth 
century brought in the new aesthetic and philosophical 
criticism. The twentieth century, it seems likely, 
will treat him more respectfully. The romantic 
attitude begins to be fatiguing. The great romantic 
critics, when they are writing at their best, do succeed 
in communicating to the reader those thrills of wonder 
and exaltation which they have felt in contact with 
Shakespeare's imaginative work. This is not a little 
thing to do ; but it cannot be done continuously, 
and it has furnished the work-a-day critic with a 
vicious model. There is a taint of insincerity about 
romantic criticism, from which not even the great 
romantics are free. They are never in danger from 
the pitfalls that waylay the plodding critic ; but 
they are always falling upward, as it were, into vacuity. 
They love to lose themselves in an O altitudo. From 
the most worthless material they will fashion a new 
hasty altar to the unknown God. When they are 
inspired by their divinity they say wonderful things ; 
when the inspiration fails them their language is 
maintained at the same height, and they say more than 
they feel. You can never be sure of them. 

Those who approach the study of Shakespeare under 
the sober and vigorous guidance of Johnson will meet 


with fewer exciting adventures, but they will not 
see less of the subject. They will hear the greatness 
of Shakespeare discussed in language so quiet and 
modest as to sound tame in ears accustomed to hyper- 
bole, but they will not, unless they are very dull 
or very careless, fall into the error of supposing that 
Johnson's admiration for Shakespeare was cold or 
partial. ' This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare, 
that his drama is the mirrour of life ; that he who 
has mazed his imagination, in following the phantoms 
which other writers raise up before him, may here be 
cured of his delirious extasies, by reading human 
sentiments in human language, by scenes from which 
a hermit may estimate the transactions of the world, 
and a confessor predict the progress of the passions.' 
The great moments of Shakespeare's drama had thrilled 
and excited Johnson from his boyhood up. When he 
was nine years old, and was reading Hamlet alone in his 
father's kitchen, the ghost scene made him hurry 
upstairs to the street door, that he might see people 
about him, and be saved from the terrors of imagina- 
tion. Perhaps he remembered this early experience 
when he wrote, in his notes on Macbeth * He that 
peruses Shakespeare looks round alarmed, and starts 
to find himself alone.' In his mature age he could 
not bear to read the closing scenes of King Lear and 
Othello. His notes on some of Shakespeare's minor 
characters, as, for instance, his delightful little bio- 
graphical comment on the words * Exit Pistol ', in 
King Henry F 9 show with what keenness of zest he 



followed the incidents of the drama and with what 
sympathy he estimated the persons. It is difficult 
to find a meaning for those who assert that Johnson 
was insensible to what he himself called ' the tran- 
scendent and unbounded genius ' of Shakespeare. 

His Preface was not altogether pleasing to idolaters 
of Shakespeare even in his own age. It was virulently 
attacked, and although he published no reply, his 
defence of himself is expressed in a letter to Charles 
Burney ' We must confess the faults of our favourite,' 
he says, ' to gain credit to our praise of his excellencies. 
He that claims, either in himself or for another, the 
honours of perfection, will surely injure the reputation 
which he designs to assist.' The head and front of 
Johnson's offending was that he wrote and spoke of 
Shakespeare as one man may fitly speak of another. 
He claimed for himself the citizenship of that republic 
in which Shakespeare is admittedly pre-eminent ; 
and dared to enumerate Shakespeare's faults. The 
whole tale of these, as they are catalogued by Johnson, 
might be ranged under two heads carelessness, and 
excess of conceit. It would be foolish to deny these 
charges : the only possible reply to them is that 
Shakespeare's faults are never defects ; they belong 
to superabundant power, power not putting forth 
its full resources even in the crisis of events ; or power 
neglecting the task in hand to amuse itself with 
irresponsible display. The faults are of a piece with 
the virtues ; and Johnson as good as admits this when 
he says that they are ' sufficient to obscure and over- 


whelm any other merit '. None but Shakespeare, 
that is to say, could move easily and triumphantly under 
the weight of Shakespeare's faults. The detailed 
analysis of the faults is a fine piece of criticism, and 
has never been seriously challenged. 

A deep-lying cause, not very easy to explain, which 
has interfered with the modern appreciation of 
Johnson, is to be found in the difference between the 
criticism of his day and the criticism which is now 
addressed to a large and ignorant audience. He 
assumed in his public a fair measure of know- 
ledge and judgement ; he ventured to take many 
things for granted, and to discuss knotty points as 
a man might discuss them in the society of his 
friends and equals. He was not always successful 
in his assumptions, and more than once had to com- 
plain of the stupidity which imagined him to deny 
the truths that he honoured with silence. When 
he quoted the description of the temple, in Congreve's 
Mourning Bride, as being superior in its kind to any- 
thing in Shakespeare, he encountered a storm of 
protest, the echoes of which persist to this day. His 
answer to Garrick's objections deserves a wider 
application : * Sir, this is not comparing Congreve 
on the whole with Shakespeare on the whole ; but 
only maintaining that Congreve has one finer passage 
than any that can be found in Shakespeare. Sir, 
a man may have no more than ten guineas in the world, 
but he may have those ten guineas in one piece ; 
and so may have a finer piece than a man who has 


ten thousand pounds : but then he has only one 
ten-guinea piece. What I mean is, that you can 
shew me no passage where there is simply a descrip- 
tion of material objects, without any intermixture of 
moral notions, which produces such an effect.' A few 
days later, in conversation with Boswell, he again 
talked of the passage in Congreve, and said, ' Shake- 
speare never has six lines together without a fault. 
Perhaps you may find seven, but this does not refute 
my general assertion. If I come to an orchard, and 
say there 's no fruit here, and then comes a poring man, 
who finds two apples and three pears, and tells me, 
" Sir, you are mistaken, I have found both apples and 
pears," I should laugh at him : what would that be 
to the purpose ? ' Johnson is not attacking Shake- 
speare ; he is assuming his greatness, and helping 
to define it by combating popular follies. He knew 
well that Shakespeare towers above the greatest writers 
of the correct school. * Corneille is to Shakespeare,' 
he once said, ' as a clipped hedge is to a forest.' But 
he had small patience with the critics who would 
have everything for their idol, and who claimed for 
the forest all the symmetry and neatness of the hedge. 
6 These fellows,' he said, ' know not how to blame, 
nor how to commend.' 

In these and suchlike passages we hear Johnson 
talking in language suitable enough for a literary club. 
There is nothing sectarian about his praise ; he speaks 
as an independent man of letters, and will not con- 
sent to be sealed of the tribe of Shakespeare, Modern 


criticism is seldom so free and intimate ; it has more 
the tone of public exposition and laudation ; it seeks to 
win souls to Shakespeare's poetry, and, for fear of 
misunderstanding, avoids the mention of his faults. 
It is always willing to suppose that Shakespeare had 
good and sufficient reason for what he wrote, and 
seldom permits itself the temerity of Johnson, who 
points out, for instance, what decency and probability 
require in the closing Act of All y s Well that Ends 
Well, and adds : ' Of all this Shakespeare could not 
be ignorant, but Shakespeare wanted to conclude his 

It would not be difficult to show that much new 
light has been thrown on parts of Shakespeare's work 
by the more reverential treatment. Yet perhaps it 
has obscured as much as it has elucidated. So fixed 
a habit of appreciation is the death of individuality and 
taste. Discipleship is a necessary stage in the study 
of any great poet ; it is not a necessary qualification 
of the mature critic. The acclamation of his following 
is not so honourable a tribute to a prize-fighter as the 
respect of his antagonist. In a certain sense Johnson 
was antagonistic to Shakespeare. His own taste in 
tragedy may be learned from his note on the scene 
between Queen Katherine and her attendants at the 
close of Act IV of Henry Fill : ' This scene is, above 
any other part of Shakespeare's tragedies, and perhaps 
above any scene of any other poet, tender and pathetick, 
without gods, or furies, or poisons, or precipices, 
without the help of romantick circumstances, without 


improbable sallies of poetical lamentation, and without 
any throes of tumultuous misery. 5 But although this 
describes the kind of drama that Johnson preferred, 
he can praise, in words that have become a common- 
place of criticism, the wildness of romance in The 
Tempest and A Midsummer Night's Dream, and can 
enumerate and admire the ' touches of judgement 
and genius ' which add horror to the incantation of the 
witches in Macbeth. Like all great critics, he can 
understand the excellences of opposite kinds. Indeed, 
in his defence of Shakespeare's neglect of the unities he 
passes over to the side of the enemy, and almost 
becomes a romantic. 1 

The history of Shakespeare criticism would be 
shorter than it is if Johnson's views on the emendation 
of the text had been more extensively adopted. ' It 
has been my settled principle,' he says, 'that the reading 
of the ancient books is probably true, and therefore 
is not to be disturbed for the sake of elegance, per- 
spicuity, or mere improvements of the sense. ... As 
I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust it 
less ; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved to 
insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon 
this caution I now congratulate myself, for every day 
encreases my doubt of my emendations.' A good 

1 The transformation was completed after his death. I am 
indebted to Mr. W. P. Ker for pointing out to me that Henri 
Beyle in his Racine et Shakespeare (1822) translates all that 
Johnson says on the unities, and appropriates it as the mani- 
festo of the young romantics. ' But he told not them that he 
had taken the honey out of the carcase of the lion.' 


part of his work on the text consisted in restoring the 
original readings in place of the plausible conjectures 
of Pope and Warburton. Yet he sometimes pays to 
their readings a respect which he would not challenge 
for his own, and retains them in the text. He 
adopts Warburton's famous reading in the speech of 
Hamlet to Polonius : * If the sun breed maggots in 
a dead dog, being a god kissing carrion ' and remarks 
on it, ' This is a noble emendation, which almost sets 
the critick on a level with the authour.' Admiration 
for Warburton's ingenuity caused him to break his 
own rule, which is sound, and should never be broken. 
The original reading * a good kissing carrion ' has 
a meaning ; and therefore, on Johnson's principle, 
should stand. Its meaning, moreover, is better suited 
to Hamlet and to Shakespeare than the elaborate 
mythological argument implied in Warburton's emen- 
dation. If the * good kissing carrion ' be understood 
by the common analogy of ' good drinking water ' 
or ' good eating apples ', the grimness of the thought 
exactly falls in with Hamlet's utter disaffection to 
humanity. ' Conception is a blessing, but not as 
your daughter may conceive.' To bring the amended 
reading into relation with Hamlet's thought Warburton 
is compelled to write a most elaborate disquisition ; 
and Johnson might have remembered and applied 
his own warning : * I have always suspected that the 
reading is right, which requires many words to prove 
it wrong ; and the emendation wrong, that cannot 
without so much labour appear to be right.' 


Johnson's treatment of his predecessors and rivals is 
uniformly generous ; he never attempts to raise 
his own credit on their mistakes and extravagance. 
Once, when a lady at Miss Hannah More's house 
talked of his preface to Shakespeare as superior to 
Pope's : ' I fear not, Madam,' said he, ' the little 
fellow has done wonders.' Hanmer he speaks of as 
6 a man, in my opinion, eminently qualified by nature 
for such studies.' Warburton was fated to suffer at 
his hands more than any other commentator, but it is 
plain from the Preface that he had a grateful remem- 
brance of Warburton's kindness to the early Observa- 
tions on Macbeth. ' He praised me,' Johnson once 
said, * at a time when praise was of value to me.' 
Such praise Johnson never forgot ; but he did not 
allow it to bias his work as a critic. It may be said 
that he unduly exalts Warburton at the expense of 
Theobald (' O, Sir, he'd make two-and-fifty Theobalds, 
cut into slices '), but it was not only personal gratitude 
which dictated that judgement. Theobald was, 
without doubt, a better scholar and a better editor 
than Warburton : there can be no question which 
of the two has done more for the text of Shakespeare. 
But Warburton was a man of large general powers, 
who wrote an easy and engaging style. His long, 
fantastic, unnecessary notes on Shakespeare are, 
almost without exception, good reading ; which is 
more than can be said of Theobald's. Johnson's 
regard for the dignity of letters made him too severe 
on one who was destitute of the literary graces. 


Modern opinion has reinstated Theobald, and is 
inclined to adopt Foote's, rather than Johnson's, 
opinion of Warburton. When Foote visited Eton, 
the boys came round him in the college quadrangle. 
* Tell us, Mr. Foote,' said the leader, ' the best thing 
you ever said.' ' Why,' said Foote, ' I once saw a 
little blackguard imp of a chimney-sweeper, mounted 
on a noble steed, prancing and curvetting in all the 
pride and magnificence of nature, There, said I, 
goes Warburton upon Shakespeare.' 

Johnson himself would not have been ready to 
allow any weight to the critical opinions of stage- 
players. One of his heterodox opinions, says Boswell, 
was a contempt for tragic acting. In the Idler he 
describes the Indian war-cry, and continues : ' I am 
of opinion that by a proper mixture of asses, bulls, 
turkeys, geese, and tragedians a noise might be pro- 
cured equally horrid with the war-cry.' He was more 
than once reproached by Boswell for omitting all 
mention of Garrick in the Preface to Shakespeare, 
but he was not to be moved. ' Has Garrick not brought 
Shakespeare into notice? ' asked Boswell. * Sir,' said 
Johnson, ' to allow that would be to lampoon the age. 
Many of Shakespeare's plays are the worse for being 
acted : Macbeth, for instance.' This was the belief 
also of Charles Lamb, who expounded it in his essay 
On the Tragedies of Shakespeare. ' There is somethng 
in the nature of acting,' he concludes, i which levels 
all distinctions. . . . Did not Garrick shine, and was 
he not ambitious of shining in every drawling tragedy 


that his wretched day produced, the productions of 
the Hills and the Murphys and the Browns, and 
shall he have the honour to dwell in our minds for 
ever as an inseparable concomitant with Shakespeare ? 
AJdndred mind ! ' It is a strange kind of heresy that 
is the fixed belief of two such critics as Johnson and 

But let it be a heresy ; one of the chief fascinations 
of Johnson's notes on Shakespeare is that they intro- 
duce us to not a few of his private heretical opinions, 
and record some of his most casual reminiscences. 
We are enabled to trace his reading in the Life of 
Sir Thomas More, and in Sir Walter Raleigh's political 
remains, and in the fashionable guide to conversation 
translated from the French of Scudery. We learn 
some things which Boswell does not tell us ; some 
even (if a bold thought may be indulged) which 
Boswell did not know. We are introduced in the Life 
to Johnson's cat Hodge, for whom Johnson used to go 
out and buy oysters, lest the servants having that 
trouble should take a dislike to the poor creature. 
But we are not told, what is proved by a note on 
Cymbeline, that Johnson passionately protested against 
physiological experiments on live animals. Again, is it 
not certain that Boswell, if he had known it, would have 
told us that his hero wore his boots indifferently, either 
on either foot, and further, which is yet a stranger 
thing, believed that all other boot-wearers practise 
the same impartiality ? Boswell can hardly have 
known this ; yet Johnson's note on the tailor in King 


John, who, in his haste, falsely thrusts his slippers 
upon contrary feet, leaves no room for doubt. * Shake- 
speare,' says Johnson, * seems to have confounded a 
man's shoes with his gloves. He that is frighted or 
hurried may put his hand into the wrong glove, 
but either shoe will equally admit either foot. The 
authour seems to be disturbed by the disorder which 
he describes.' This is a topic which demands, and 
would well repay, the expert labours of academic re- 
search. Very little is known about Johnson's boots. 

A great part of an editor's work is in its nature 
perishable. Some of his notes are in time superseded ; 
some are shown to be wrong ; some are accepted and 
embodied in the common stock of knowledge. Of 
all Johnson's annotations on Shakespeare those which 
record his own tastes and habits have preserved most 
of freshness and interest. It is a privilege to be able to 
hear him talking without the intervention of Boswell ; 
we can in some ways come closer to him when that 
eager presence is removed. It is the greatness of 
Boswell's achievement that he has made Johnson 
familiar to us ; but the very zeal and reverence of 
the biographer inevitably infect the reader, who is 
admitted to the intimacies of a man of companionable 
genius as if to a shrine. Boswell made of biography 
a passionate science ; and viewed his hero in a detached 
light. Nothing hurt him so much as the implication 
that any single detail or remark of his recording was 
inaccurately or carelessly set down. His self-abnega- 
tion was complete : where he permits himself to appear 


it is only that he may exhibit his subject to greater 
advantage. He invented the experimental method, 
and applied it to the determination of human character. 
At great expenditure of time and forethought he 
brought Johnson into strange company, the better to 
display his character and behaviour. He plied him 
with absurd questions, in the hope of receiving 
valuable answers. All this was not the conduct of 
a friend, but of a remorseless investigator. And 
when to this is added Boswell's spirit of humble 
adoration, it is easy to understand how the whole 
process has made Johnson clear indeed, in every out- 
line, but a little too remote. His eccentricities take 
up too much of the picture, so that to the vulgar 
intelligence he has always seemed something of 
a monster. Even those who love Johnson fall too 
easily into Boswell's attitude, and observe, and listen, 
and wonder. It is good to remember that the 
dictator, when he was in a happy vein, was, above most 
men, sensible, courteous and friendly. The best of his 
notes on Shakespeare, like the best of his spoken 
remarks, invite discussion and quicken thought. 
What a conversation might have been started at the 
club by his brief observation on Gaunt's speech in 
Richard II : 

Shorten my days thou canst with sullen sorrow, 
And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow. 

' It is matter of very melancholy consideration,' says 
Johnson, ' that all human advantages confer more 
power of doing evil than good.' No doubt the 


reflection is highly characteristic of its author, but 
we are too much accustomed to let our interest in 
the character overshadow our interest in the truth. 
Johnson's talk was free from self-consciousness ; but 
Boswell, when he was in the room, was conscious of 
one person only, so that a kind of self-consciousness 
by proxy is the impression conveyed. There is no 
greater enemy to the freedom and delight of social 
intercourse than the man who is always going back 
on what has just been said, to praise its cleverness, 
to guess its motive, or to show how it illustrates the 
character of the speaker. Boswell was not, of course, 
guilty of this particular kind of ill-breeding ; but the 
very necessities of his record produce something of 
a like effect. The reader who desires to have Johnson 
to himself for an hour, with no interpreter, cannot do 
better than turn to the notes on Shakespeare. They 
are written informally and fluently ; they are packed 
full of observation and wisdom ; and their only fault 
is that they are all too few. 



, 1908. 




At the Opening of the THEATRE-ROYAL, 
DRURY-LANE, 1747. 

WHEN Learning's triumph o'er her barbarous foes 
First rear'd the stage, immortal Shakespeare rose; 
Each change of many-colour'd life he drew, 
Exhausted worlds, and then imagined new : 
Existence saw him spurn her bounded reign, 
And panting time toil'd after him in vain. 
His powerful strokes presiding truth impress'd, 
And unresisted passion storm'd the breast. 




WHEN the works of Shakespeare are, after so many 
editions, again offered to the Publick, it will doubtless 
be inquired, why Shakespeare stands in more need of 
critical assistance than any other of the English writers, 
and what are the deficiencies of the late attempts, 
which another editor may hope to supply? 

The business of him that republishes an ancient 
book is, to correct what is corrupt, and to explain 
what is obscure. To have a text corrupt in many 
places, and in many doubtful, is, among the authors 
that have written since the use of types, almost 
peculiar to Shakespeare. Most writers, by publishing 
their own works, prevent all various readings, and 
preclude all conjectural criticism. Books indeed are 
sometimes published after the death of him who pro- 
duced them ; but they are better secured from 
corruption than these unfortunate compositions. They 
subsist in a single copy, written or revised by the 
author ; and the faults of the printed volume can be 
only faults of one descent. 

But of the works of Shakespeare the condition has 
been far different : he sold them, not to be printed, 
but to be played. They were immediately copied 
for the actors, and multiplied by transcript after 
transcript, vitiated by the blunders of the penman, 
or changed by the affectation of the player ; perhaps 



enlarged to introduce a jest, or mutilated to shorten 
the representation ; and printed at last without the 
concurrence of the author, without the consent of 
the proprietor, from compilations made by chance 
or by stealth out of the separate parts written for 
the theatre : and thus thrust into the world surrep- 
titiously and hastily, they suffered another deprava- 
tion from the ignorance and negligence of the printers, 
as every man who knows the state of the press in that 
age will readily conceive. 

It is not easy for invention to bring together so 
many causes concurring to vitiate the text. No other 
author ever gave up his works to fortune and time with 
so little care : no books could be left in hands so likely 
to injure them, as plays frequently acted, yet continued 
in manuscript : no other transcribers were likely to 
be so little qualified for their task as those who copied 
for the stage, at a time when the lower ranks of the 
people were universally illiterate : no other editions 
were made from fragments so minutely broken, and 
so fortuitously reunited ; and in no other age was 
the art of printing in such unskilful hands. 

With the causes of corruption that make the revisal 
of Shakespeare's dramatick pieces necessary, may be 
enumerated the causes of obscurity, which may be 
partly imputed to his age, and partly to himself. 

When a writer outlives his contemporaries, and 
remains almost the only unforgotten name of a distant 
time, he is necessarily obscure. Every age has its 
modes of speech, and its cast of thought ; which, 
though easily explained when there are many books to 
be compared with each other, become sometimes 
unintelligible and always difficult, when there are no 
parallel passages that may conduce to their illustration. 
Shakespeare is the first considerable author of sublime 
or familiar dialogue in our language. Of the books 


which he read, and from which he formed his style, 
some perhaps have perished, and the rest are neglected. 
His imitations are therefore unnoted, his allusions are 
undiscovered, and many beauties, both of pleasantry 
and greatness, are lost with the objects to which they 
were united, as the figures vanish when the canvass has 

It is the great excellence of Shakespeare, that he 
drew his scenes from nature, and from life. He copied 
the manners of the world then passing before him, 
and has more allusions than other poets to the 
traditions and superstition of the vulgar ; which must 
therefore be traced before he can be understood. 

He wrote at a time when our poetical language was 
yet unformed, when the meaning of our phrases was 
yet in fluctuation, when words were adopted at 
pleasure from the neighbouring languages, and while 
the Saxon was still visibly mingled in our diction. 
The reader is therefore embarrassed at once with dead 
and with foreign languages, with obsoleteness and 
innovation. In that age, as in all others, fashion 
produced phraseology, which succeeding fashion swept 
away before its meaning was generally known, or 
sufficiently authorized : and in that age, above all 
others, experiments were made upon our language, 
which distorted its combinations, and disturbed its 

If Shakespeare has difficulties above other writers, 
it is to be imputed to the nature of his work, which 
required the use of the common colloquial language, 
and consequently admitted many phrases allusive, 
elliptical, and proverbial, such as we speak and hear 
every hour without observing them ; and of which, 
being now familiar, we do not suspect that they can 
ever grow uncouth, or that, being now obvious, they 
can ever seem remote. 

B 2 


These are the principal causes of the obscurity of 
Shakespeare ; to which might be added the fulness of 
idea, which might sometimes load his words with more 
sentiment than they could conveniently convey, and 
that rapidity of imagination which might hurry him 
to a second thought before he had fully explained the 
first. But my opinion is, that very few of his lines 
were difficult to his audience, and that he used such 
expressions as were then common, though the paucity 
of contemporary writers makes them now seem peculiar. 

Authors are often praised for improvement, or 
blamed for innovation, with very little justice, by 
those who read few other books of the same age. 
Addison himself has been so unsuccessful in enumera- 
ting the words with which Milton has enriched our 
language, as perhaps not to have named one of which 
Milton was the author ; and Bentley has yet more 
unhappily praised him as the introducer of those 
ellisions into English poetry, which had been used 
from the first essays of versification among us, and 
which Milton was indeed the last that practised. 

Another impediment, not the least vexatious to 
the commentator, is the exactness with which Shake- 
speare followed his authors. Instead of dilating his 
thoughts into generalities, and expressing incidents 
with poetical latitude, he often combines circum- 
stances unnecessary to his main design, only because 
he happened to find them together. Such passages 
can be illustrated only by him who has read the same 
story in the very book which Shakespeare consulted. 

He that undertakes an edition of Shakespeare, has 
all these difficulties to encounter, and all these obstruc- 
tions to remove. 

The corruptions of the text will be corrected by 
a careful collation of the oldest copies, by which it 
is hoped that many restorations may yet be made : 


at least it will be necessary to collect and note the 
variation as materials for future criticks ; for it very 
often happens that a wrong reading has affinity to 
the right. 

In this part all the present editions are apparently 
and intentionally defective. The criticks did not so 
much as wish to facilitate the labour of those that 
followed them. The same books are still to be com- 
pared ; the work that has been done, is to be done 
again ; and no single edition will supply the reader 
with a text on which he can rely as the best copy of 
the works of Shakespeare. 

The edition now proposed will at least have this 
advantage over others. It will exhibit all the observ- 
able varieties of all the copies that can be found ; that, 
if the reader is not satisfied with the editor's deter- 
mination, he may have the means of choosing better 
for himself. 

Where all the books are evidently vitiated, and 
collation can give no assistance, then begins the task 
of critical sagacity : and some changes may well be 
admitted in a text never settled by the author, and 
so long exposed to caprice and ignorance. But 
nothing shall be imposed, as in the Oxford edition, 
without notice of the alteration ; nor shall conjecture 
be wantonly or unnecessarily indulged. 

It has been long found, that very specious emenda- 
tions, do not equally strike all minds with conviction, 
nor even the same mind at different times ; and 
therefore, though perhaps many alterations may be 
proposed as eligible, very few will be obtruded as 
certain. In a language so ungrammatical as the 
English, and so licentious as that of Shakespeare, 
emendatory criticism is always hazardous ; nor can it 
be allowed to any man who is not particularly versed 
in the writings of that age, and particularly studious 


of his author's diction. There is a danger lest 
peculiarities should be mistaken for corruptions, and 
passages rejected as unintelligible, which a narrow 
mind happens not to understand. 

All the former criticks have been so much employed 
on the correction of the text, that they have not 
sufficiently attended to the elucidation of passages 
obscured by accident or time. The editor will en- 
deavour to read the books which the author read, to 
trace his knowledge to its source, and compare his 
copies with their originals. If in this part of his 
design he hopes to attain any degree of superiority to 
his predecessors, it must be considered, that he has 
the advantage of their labours ; that part of the work 
being already done, more care is naturally bestowed 
on the other part ; and that, to declare the truth, 
Mr. Rowe and Mr. Pope were very ignorant of the 
ancient English literature ; Dr. Warburton was detained 
by more important studies ; and Mr. Theobald, if fame 
be just to his memory, considered learning only as an 
instrument of gain, and made no further inquiry 
after his author's meaning, when once he had notes 
sufficient to embellish his page with the expected 

With regard to obsolete or peculiar diction, the 
editor may perhaps claim some degree of confidence, 
having had more motives to consider the whole extent 
of our language than any other man from its first 
formation. He hopes that, by comparing the works 
of Shakespeare with those of writers who lived at the 
same time, immediately preceded, or immediately 
followed him, he shall be able to ascertain his ambi- 
guities, disentangle his intricacies, and recover the mean- 
ing of words now lost in the darkness of antiquity. 

When therefore any obscurity arises from an allusion 
to some other book, the passage will be quoted. When 


the diction is entangled, it will be cleared by a para- 
phrase or interpretation. When the sense is broken 
by the suppression of part of the sentiment in pleasantry 
or passion, the connexion will be supplied. When any 
forgotten custom is hinted, care will be taken to retrieve 
and explain it. The meaning assigned to doubtful 
words will be supported by the authorities of other 
writers, or by parallel passages of Shakespeare himself. 

The observation of faults and beauties is one of the 
duties of an annotator, which some of Shakespeare's 
editors have attempted, and some have neglected. 
For this part of his task, and for this only, was Mr. Pope 
eminently and indisputably qualified ; nor has Dr. 
Warburton followed him with less diligence or less 
success. But I have never observed that mankind was 
much delighted or improved by their asterisks, commas, 
or double commas ; of which the only effect is, that 
they preclude the pleasure of judging for ourselves, 
teach the young and ignorant to decide without 
principles ; defeat curiosity and discernment, by 
leaving them less to discover ; and at last show the 
opinion of the critick, without the reasons on which 
it was founded, and without affording any light by 
which it may be examined. 

The editor, though he may less delight his own 
vanity will probably please his reader more, by sup- 
posing him equally able with himself to judge of 
beauties and faults, which require no previous acquisi- 
tion of remote knowledge. A description of the 
obvious scenes of nature, a representation of general 
life, a sentiment of reflection or experience, a deduc- 
tion of conclusive arguments, a forcible eruption of 
effervescent passion, are to be considered as propor- 
tionate to common apprehension, unassisted by critical 
officiousness ; since, to convince them, nothing more 
is requisite than acquaintance with the general state 


of the world, and those faculties which he must almost 
bring with him who would read Shakespeare. 

But when the beauty arises from some adaptation 
of the sentiment to customs worn out of use, to 
opinions not universally prevalent, or to any acci- 
dental or minute particularity, which cannot be 
supplied by common understanding, or common 
observation, it is the duty of a commentator to lend 
his assistance. 

The notice of beauties and faults thus limited, will 
make no distinct part of the design, being reducible 
to the explanation of obscure passages. 

The editor does not however intend to preclude 
himself from the comparison of Shakespeare's senti- 
ments or expression with those of ancient or modern 
authors, or from the display of any beauty not obvious 
to the students of poetry ; for as he hopes to leave his 
author better understood, he wishes likewise to procure 
him more rational approbation. 

The former editors have affected to slight their 
predecessors : but in this edition all that is valuable 
will be adopted from every commentator, that posterity 
may consider it as including all the rest, and exhibiting 
whatever is hitherto known of the great father of the 
English drama. 



THAT praises are without reason lavished on the 
dead, and that the honours due only to excellence are 
paid to antiquity, is a complaint likely to be always 
continued by those, who, being able to add nothing 
to truth, hope for eminence from the heresies of 
paradox ; or those, who, being forced by disappoint- 
ment upon consolatory expedients, are willing to hope 
from posterity what the present age refuses, and flatter 
themselves that the regard which is yet denied by 
envy, will be at last bestowed by time. 

Antiquity, like every other quality that attracts the 
notice of mankind, has undoubtedly votaries that 
reverence it, not from reason, but from prejudice. 
Some seem to admire indiscriminately whatever has 
been long preserved, without considering' that time 
has sometimes co-operated with chance ; all perhaps 
are more willing to honour past than present excel- 
lence ; and the mind contemplates genius through the 
shades of age, as the eye surveys the sun through 
artificial opacity. The great contention of criticism 
is to find the faults of the moderns, and the beauties 
of the ancients. While an authour is yet living we 
estimate his powers by his worst performance, and 
when he is dead, we rate them by his best. 

To works, however, of which the excellence is not 
absolute and definite, but gradual and comparative ; 
to works not raised upon principles demonstrative and 
scientifick, but appealing wholly to observation and 
experience, no other test can be applied than length 
of duration and continuance of esteem. What man- 
kind have long possessed they have often examined and 


compared ; and if they persist to value the possession, 
it is because frequent comparisons have confirmed 
opinion in its favour. As among the works of nature 
no man can properly call a river deep, or a mountain 
high, without the knowledge of many mountains, and 
many rivers ; so in the productions of genius, nothing 
can be stiled excellent till it has been compared with 
other works of the same kind. Demonstration imme- 
diately displays its power, and has nothing to hope or 
fear from the flux of years ; but works tentative and 
experimental must be estimated by their proportion 
to the general and collective ability of man, as it is 
discovered in a long succession of endeavours. Of the 
first building that was raised, it might be with certainty 
determined that it was round or square ; but whether 
it was spacious or lofty must have been referred to 
time. The Pythagorean scale of numbers was at once 
discovered to be perfect ; but the poems of Homer we 
yet know not to transcend the common limits of 
human intelligence, but by remarking, that nation 
after nation, and century after century, has been able 
to do little more than transpose his incidents, new- 
name his characters, and paraphrase his sentiments. 

The reverence due to writings that have long 
subsisted arises therefore not from any credulous con- 
fidence in the superior wisdom of past ages, or gloomy 
persuasion of the degeneracy of mankind, but is the 
consequence of acknowledged and indubitable positions, 
that what has been longest known has been most con- 
sidered, and what is most considered is best understood. 

The Poet, of whose works I have undertaken the 
revision, may now begin to assume the dignity of an 
ancient, and claim the privilege of established fame and 
prescriptive veneration. He has long outlived his 
century, the term commonly fixed as the test of literary 
merit. Whatever advantages he might once derive 


from personal allusions, local customs, or temporary 
opinions, have for many years been lost ; and every 
topick of merriment, or motive of sorrow, which the 
modes of artificial life afforded him, now only obscure 
the scenes which they once illuminated. The effects 
of favour and competition are at an end ; the tradition 
of his friendships and his enmities has perished ; his 
works support no opinion with arguments, nor supply 
any faction with invectives ; they can neither indulge 
vanity nor gratify malignity ; but are read without 
any other reason than the desire of pleasure, and are 
therefore praised only as pleasure is obtained ; yet, 
thus unassisted by interest or passion, they have past 
through variations of taste and changes of manners, 
and, as they devolved from one generation to another, 
have received new honours at every transmission. 

But because human judgment, though it be gra- 
dually gaining upon certainty, never becomes infal- 
lible ; and approbation, though long continued, may 
yet be only the approbation of prejudice or fashion ; 
it is proper to inquire, by what peculiarities of excel- 
lence Shakespeare has gained and kept the favour of 
his countrymen. 

Nothing can please many, and please long, but just 
representations of general nature. Particular manner, 
can be known to few, and therefore few only can judge 
how nearly they are copied. The irregular combina- 
tions of fanciful invention may delight a-while, by that 
novelty of which the common satiety of life sends us 
all in quest ; but the pleasures of sudden wonder are 
soon exhausted, and the mind can only repose on the 
stability of truth. 

Shakespeare is above all writers, at least above all 
modern writers, the poet of nature the poet that 
holds up to his readers a faithful mirrour of manners 
and of life. His characters are not modified by the 


customs of particular places, unpractised by the rest 
of the world; by the peculiarities of studies or pro- 
fessions, which can operate but upon small numbers ; 
or by the accidents of transient fashions or temporary 
opinions : they are the genuine progeny of common 
humanity, such as the world will always supply, and 
observation will always find. His persons act and 
speak by the influence of those general passions and 
principles by which all minds are agitated, and the whole 
system of life is continued in motionX In the writings 
of other poets a character is too often an individual ; 
in those of Shakespeare it is commonly a species, x 

It is from this wide extension of design that so much 
instructTorTis derived. It is this which fills the plays 
of Shakespeare with practical axioms and domestic 
wisdom. It was said of Euripides, that every verse was, 
a precept ; and it may be said of Shakespeare, that 
from his works may be collected a system of civil and 
oeconomical prudence. Yet his real power is not 
shewn in the splendour of particular passages, but by 
the progress of his fable, and the tenour of his dialogue ; 
and he that tries to recommend him by select quota- 
tions, will succeed like the pedant in Hierocles, who, 
when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in 
his pocket as a specimen. 

It will not easily be imagined how much Shakespeare 
excells in accommodating his sentiments to real life, 
but by comparing him with other authors. It was 
observed of the ancient schools of declamation, that 
the more diligently they were frequented, the more 
was the student disqualified for the world, because he 
found nothing there which he should ever meet in 
any other place. The same remark may be applied 
to every stage but that of Shakespeare. The theatre, 
when it is under any other direction, is peopled by 
such characters as were never seen, conversing in 


a language which was never heard, upon topicks which 
will never arise in the commerce of mankind. But 
the dialogue of this author is often so evidently deter- 
mined by the incident which produces it, and is 
pursued with so much ease and simplicity, that it 
seems scarcely to claim the merit of fiction, but to 
have been gleaned by diligent selection out of common 
conversation, and common occurrences. 

Upon every other stage the universal agent is love, 
by whose power all good and evil is distributed, and 
every action quickened or retarded. To bring a lover, 
a lady and a rival into the fable ; to entangle them 
in contradictory obligations, perplex them with oppo- 
sitions of interest, and harrass them with violence of 
desires inconsistent with each other ; to make them 
meet in rapture and part in agony ; to fill their 
mouths with hyperbolical joy and outrageous sorrow ; 
to distress them as nothing human ever was distressed ; 
to deliver them as nothing human ever was delivered ; 
is the business of a modern dramatist. For this pro- 
bability is violated, life is misrepresented, and language 
is depraved. But love- is only one of many passions ; 
and as it has no great influence upon the sum of life, 
it has little operation in the dramas of a poet, who 
caught his ideas from the living world, and exhibited 
only what he saw before him. He knew, that any 
other passion, as it was regular or exorbitant, was a cause 
of happiness or calamity. 

Characters thus ample and general were not easily 
discriminated and preserved, yet perhaps no poet ever 
kept his personages more distinct from each other. 
I will not say with Pope, that every speech may be 
assigned to the proper speaker, because many speeches 
there are which have nothing characteristical ; but 
perhaps, though some may be equally adapted to 
every person, it will be difficult to find, any that can 


be properly transferred from the present possessor to 
another claimant. The choice is right, when there is 
reason for choice. 

Other dramatists can only gain attention by hyper- 
bolical or aggravated characters, by fabulous and 
unexampled excellence or depravity, as the writers 
of barbarous romances invigorated the reader by 
a giant and a dwarf ; and he that should form his 
expectations of human affairs from the play, or from 
tale, would be equally deceived. ^" 7 ^ f ffflff hi! 
10 heroes ; his scenes are occupied only by men, who 
tct and speak as the reader thinks that he should 
limself have spoken or acted on the same occasion : 
liven where the agency is supernatural the dialogue 
|s level with life. Other writers disguise the most 
tatural passions and most frequent incidents ; so that 
ie who contemplates them in the book will not know 
them in the world : Shakespeare approximates the 
remote, and familiarizes the wonderful ; the event 
which he represents will not happen, but if it were 
possible, its effects would probably be such as he has 
assigned ; and it may be said, that he has not only shewn 
human nature as it acts in real exigencies, but as it 
would be found in trials, to which it cannot be exposed. 
This therefore is the praise of Shakespeare, that his 
drama is the mirrour of life ; that he who has mazed 
his imagination, in following the phantoms which 
other writers raise up before him, may here be cured 
of his delirious extasies, by reading human sentiments 
in human language, by scenes from which a hermit 
may estimate the transactions of the world, and a con- 
fessor predict the progress of the passions. 

His adherence to general nature has exposed him 
to the censure of criticks, who form their judgments 
upon narrower principles. Dennis and Rhymer think 
his Romans not sufficiently Roman ; and Voltaire 


censures his kings as not completely royal. Dennis 
is offended, that Menenius, a senator of Rome, should 
play the buffoon ; and Voltaire perhaps thinks decency 
violated when the Danish Usurper is represented as 
a drunkard. But Shakespeare always makes nature 
predominate over accident ; and if he preserves the 
essential character, is not very careful of distinctions 
superinduced and adventitious. His story requires 
Romans or kings, but he thinks only on men. He 
knew that Rome, like every other city, had men of all 
dispositions ; and wanting a buffoon, he went into the 
senate-house for that which the senate-house would 
certainly have afforded him. He was inclined to shew 
an usurper and a murderer not only odious but 
despicable, he therefore added drunkenness to his 
other qualities, knowing that kings love wine like other 
men, and that wine exerts its natural power upon 
kings. These are the petty cavils of petty minds ; 
a poet overlooks the casual distinction of country and 
condition, as a painter, satisfied with the figure, neg- 
lects the drapery. 

/~The censure which he has incurred by mixing 
Ycomick and tragick scenes, as it extends to all his 
/ works, deserves more consideration. Let the fact be 
/first stated, and then examined. 

Shakespeare's plays are not in the rigorous and 
critical sense either tragedies or comedies, but com- 
positions of a distinct kind ; exhibiting the real state 
of sublunary nature, which partakes of good and evil, 
joy and sorrow, miggled with endless variety of pro- 
portion and innumrSfBle modes of combination ; and 
expressing the course of the world, in which the loss 
of one is the gain of another ; in which, at the same 
time, the reveller is hasting to his wine, and the 
mourner burying his friend ; in which the malignity 
of one is sometimes defeated by the frolick of another ; 


and many mischiefs and many benefits are done and 
hindered without design. 

Out of this chaos of mingled purposes and casualties 
the ancient poets, according to the laws which custom 
had prescribed, selected some the crimes of men, and 
some their absurdities; some the momentous vicissi- 
tudes of life, and some the lighter occurrences ; some 
the terrours of distress, and some the gayeties of 
prosperity. Thus rose the two modes of imitation, 
known by the names of tragedy and comedy, composi- 
tions intended to promote different ends by contrary 
means, and considered as so little allied, that I do not 
recollect among the Greeks or Romans a single writer 
who attempted both. 

Shakespeare has united the powers of exciting 
laughter and sorrow not only in one mind, but in one 
composition. Almost all his plays are divided between 
serious and ludicrous characters, and, in the successive 
evolutions of the design, sometimes produce serious- 
ness and sorrow, and sometimes levity and laughter. 

That this is a practice contrary to the rules of 
criticism will be readily allowed ; but there is always 
an appeal open from criticism to nature. The end of 
writing is to instruct ; the end pf poetry is to instruct 
by pleasing. That the mingled drama may convey all 
the instruction oftragedv or comedy canno^_be_d.enied, 
because it includes both in its alterations of exhiEition 
and approaches nearer than either to the appearance of 
life, by shewing how great machinations and slender 
designs may promote or obviate one another, and the 
high and the low co-operate in the general system by 
unavoidable concatenation. 

It is objected, that by this change of scenes the 
passions are interrupted in their progression, and that 
the principal event, being not advanced by a due 
gradation of preparatory incidents, wants at last the 


power to move, which constitutes the perfection of 
dramatick poetry. This reasoning is so specious, that 
it is received as true even by those who in daily experi- 
ence feel it to be false. The interchanges of mingled 
scenes seldom fail to produce the intended vicissitudes 
of passion. Fiction cannot move so much, but that 
the attention may be easily transferred ; and though 
it must be allowed that pleasing melancholy be some- 
times interrupted by unwelcome levity, yet let it be 
considered likewise, that melancholy is often not 
pleasing, and that the disturbance of one man may be 
the relief of another ; that different auditors have 
different habitudes ; and that, upon the whole, all 
pleasure consists in variety. 

The players, who in their edition divided our 
authour's works into comedies, histories, and tragedies, 
seem not to have distinguished the three kinds by any 
very exact or definite ideas. 

An action which ended happily to the principal 
persons, however serious or distressful through its 
intermediate incidents, in their opinion, constituted 
a comedy. This idea of a comedy continued long 
amongst us ; and plays were written, which, by 
changing the catastrophe, were tragedies to-day, and 
comedies to-morrow. i 

Tragedy was not in those times a poem of more 
general dignity or elevation than comedy ; it required 
only a calamitous conclusion, with which the common 
criticism of that age was satisfied, whatever lighter 
pleasure it afforded in its progress. 

History was a series of actions, with no other than 
chronological succession, independent on each other, 
and without any tendency to introduce or regulate 
the conclusion. It is not always very nicely dis- 
tinguished from tragedy. There is not much nearer 
approach to unity of action in the tragedy of Antony 



and Cleopatra, than in the history of Richard the 
Second. But a history might be continued through 
many plays ; as it had no plan, it had no limits. 

Through all these denominations of the drama, 
Shakespeare's mode of composition is the same ; an 
interchange of seriousness and merriment, by which 
the mind is softened at one time, and exhilarated at 
another. But whatever be his purpose, whether to 
gladden or depress, or to conduct the story, without 
vehemence or emotion, through tracts of easy and 
familiar dialogue, he never fails to attain his purpose ; 
as he commands us, we laugh or mourn, or sit silent 
with quiet expectation, in tranquillity without 

When Shakespeare's plan is understood, most of the 
criticisms of Rhymer and Voltaire vanish away. The 
play of Hamlet is opened, without impropriety, by 
two sentinels ; I ago bellows at Brabantio's window, 
without injury to the scheme of the play, though in 
terms which a modern audience would not easily 
endure ; the character of Polonius is seasonable and 
useful; and the Grave-diggers themselves may be 
heard with applause. 

Shakespeare engaged in dramatick poetry with the 
world open before him ; the rules of the ancients 
were yet known to few; the publick judgment was 
unformed ; he had no example of such fame as might 
force him upon imitation, nor criticks of such authority 
as might restrain his extravagance : He therefore in- 
dulged his natural disposition, and his disposition, 
as Rhymer has remarked, led him to comedy. In 
tragedy he often writes, with great appearance of toil 
and study, what is written at last with little felicity ; 
but in his comick scenes, he seems to produce without 
labour, what no labour can improve. In tragedv^he 
is always struggling after some occasion to be comick ; 


but in comedy he seems to repose, or to luxuriate, as 
ia_a mode of thinking congenial to his nature. In 
his tragick scenes there is always something wanting, 
but his comedy often surpasses expectation or desire. 
His comedy pleases by the thoughts and the language, 
and his tragedy for the greater part by incident and 
action. His tragedy seems to be skill, his comedy to 
be instinct. 

The force of his comick scenes has suffered little 
diminution from the changes made by a century and 
a half, in manners or in words. As his personages act 
upon principles arising from genuine passion, very 
little modified by particular forms, their pleasures and 
vexations are communicable to all times and to all 
places ; they are natural, and therefore durable ; the 
adventitious peculiarities of personal habits, are only 
superficial dies, bright and pleasing for a little while, 
yet soon fading to a dim tinct, without any remains of 
former lustre ; but the discriminations of true passion 
are the colours of nature ; they pervade the whole 
mass, and can only perish with the body that exhibits 
them. The accidental compositions of heterogeneous 
modes are dissolved by the chance which combined 
them ; but the uniform simplicity of primitive quali- 
ties neither admits increase, nor suffers decay. The 
sand heaped by one flood is scattered by another, but 
the rock always continues in its place. The stream 
of time, which is continually washing the dissoluble 
fabricks of other poets, passes without injury by the 
adamant of Shakespeare. 

If there be, what I believe there is, in every nation, 
a stile which never becomes obsolete, a certain mode 
of phraseology so consonant and congenial to the 
analogy and principles of its respective language as to 
remain settled and unaltered ; this style is probably 
to be sought in the common intercourse of life, among 

c 2 


those who speak only to be understood, without am- 
bition of elegance. The polite are always catching 
modish innovations, and the learned depart from 
established forms of speech, in hope of finding or 
making better ; those who wish for distinction forsake 
the vulgar, when the vulgar is right ; but there is 
a conversation above grossness and below refinement, 
where propriety resides, and where this poet seems to 
have gathered his comick dialogue. He is therefore 
more agreeable to the ears of the present age than any 
other authour equally remote, and among his other 
excellencies deserves to be studied as one of the original 
masters of our language. 

These observations are to be considered not as unex- 
ceptionably constant, but as containing general and 
predominant truth. Shakespeare's familiar dialogue is 
affirmed to be smooth and clear, yet not wholly with- 
out ruggedness or difficulty ; as a country may be 
eminently fruitful, though it has spots unfit for culti- 
vation : His characters are praised as natural, though 
their sentiments are sometimes forced, and their actions 
improbable ; as the earth upon the whole is spherical, 
though its surface is varied with protuberances and 

Shakespeare with his excellencies has likewise faults, 
and faults sufficient to obscure and overwhelm any 
other merit. I shall shew them in the proportion in 
which they appear to me, without envious malignity 
or superstitious veneration. No question can be more 
innocently discussed than a dead poet's pretensions to 
renown ; and little regard is due to that bigotry which 
sets candour higher than truth. 

His first defect is that to which may be imputed 
most of the evil in books or in men.(jHe sacrifices 
virtue to convenience, and is so much more careful 
to please than to instruct, that he seems to write 

r v 


without any moral purpose. From his writings indeed 
a system of social duty may be selected, for he that 
thinks reasonably must think morally ; but his precepts 
and axioms drop casually from him ; he makes no just 
distribution of good or evil, nor is always careful to 
shew in the virtuous a disapprobation of the wicked ; 
he carries his persons indifferently through right and 
wrong, and at the close dismisses them without further 
care, and leaves their examples to operate by chance. 
This fault the barbarity of his age cannot extenuate ; 
for it is always a writer's duty to make the world 
better, and justice is a virtue independant on time or 

The plots are often so loosely formed, that a very 
slight consideration may improve them, and so care- 
lessly pursued, that he seems not always fully to com- 
prehend his own design. He omits opportunities of 
instructing or delighting which the train of his stoty 
seems to force upon him, and apparently rejects those 
exhibitions which would be more affecting, for the 
sake of those which are more easy. 

It may be observed, that in many of his plays the 
latter part is evidently neglected. When he found 
himself near the end of his work, and, in view of his 
reward, he shortened the labour to snatch the profit. 
He therefore remits his efforts where he should most 
vigorously exert them, and his catastrophe is impro- 
bably produced or imperfectly represented. 

He had no regard to distinction of time or place, 
but gives to one age or nation, without scruple, the 
customs, institutions, and opinions of another, at the 
expence not only of likelihood, but of possibility. 
These faults Pope has endeavoured, with more zeal 
than judgment,, to transfer to his imagined interpo- 
lators. We need not wonder to find Hector quoting 
Aristotle, when we see the loves of Theseus and Hippo- 


lyta combined with the Gothick mythology of fairies. 
Shakespeare, indeed, was not the only violator of 
chronology, for in the same age Sidney, who wanted not 
the advantages of learning, has, in his Arcadia, con- 
founded the pastoral with the feudal times, the days 
of innocence, quiet and security, with those of turbu- 
lence, violence, and adventure. 

In his comick scenes he is seldom very successful, 
when he engages his characters in reciprocations of 
snurtney *M Hffltff tg of sarcasm ; their jests are 
commonly gross, and their pleasantry licentious ; 
neither his gentlemen nor his ladies have much delicacy, 
nor are sufficiently distinguished from his clowns by 
any appearance of refined manners. Whether he 
represented the real conversation of his time is not 
easy to determine ; the reign of Elizabeth is commonly 
supposed to have been a time of stateliness, formality 
and reserve ; yet perhaps the relaxations of that 
severity were not very elegant. There must, however, 
have been always some modes of gayety preferable to 
others, and a writer ought to chuse the best. 

In tragedy his performance seems constantly to be 
v ) worse, as his labour is more. The effusions of passion 
which exigence forces out are for the most part 
striking and energetick ; but whenever he solicits his 
invention, or strains his faculties, the offspring of his 
throes is tumour, meanness, tediousness, and obscurity. 

In narration he affects a disproportionate pomp of 
diction, and V wearisome train of circumlocution, and 
tells the incident* imperfectly in many words, which 
might have been more plainly delivered in few. 
Narration in dramatick poetry is naturally tedious, as 
it is unanimated and inactive, and obstructs the 
progress of the action ; it should therefore always be 
rapid, and enlivened by frequent interruption. Shake- 
speare found it an encumbrance, and instead of lighten- 




ing it by brevity, endeavoured to recommend it by 
dignity and splendour. 

His declamations or set speeches are commonly cold 
and weak, for his power was the power of nature ; 
when he endeavoured, like other tragick writers, to 
catch opportunities of amplification, and instead of 
inquiring what the occasion demanded, to show how 
much his stores of knowledge could supply, he seldom 
escapes without the pity or resentment of his reader. 

It is incident to him to be now and then entangled 
with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well 
express, and will not reject; he struggles with it a 
while, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in 
words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled 
and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow 
upon it. 

Not that always where the language is intricate the 
thought is subtle, or the image always great where the 
line is bulky ; the equality of words to things is very 
often neglected, and trivial sentiments and vulgar ideas 
disappoint the attention, to which they are recom- 
mended by sonorous epithets and swelling figures. 

But the admirers of this great poet have never 
less reason to indulge their hopes of supreme excellence, 
than when he seems fully resolved to sink them in 
dejection, and mollify them with tender emotions 
by the fall of greatness, the danger of innocence, or 
the crosses of love. He is not long soft and pathetick 
without some idle conceit, or contemptible equivoca- 
tion. He no sooner begins to move, than he coun- 

teracts himself ; and terrour and pity, as they are 
rising in the mind, are checked and blasted by sudden 

A quibble is_ to S^kespfare^ what luminous vapours 
are to the traveller ; he follows it at all adventures ; 
it is sure to lead him out of his way, and sure to engulf 


him in the mire. It has some malignant power over 
his mind, and its fascinations are irresistible. Whatever 
be the dignity or profundity of his disquisition, whether 
he be enlarging knowledge or exalting affection, 
whether he be amusing attention with incidents, or 
enchaining it in suspense, let but a quibble spring 
up before him, and he leaves his work unfinished. 
A quibble is the golden apple for which he will always 
turn aside from his career, or stoop from his elevation. 
A quibble, poor and barren as it is, gave him such 
delight, that he was content to purchase it, by the 
sacrifice of reason, propriety and truth. A quibble 
was to him the fatal Cleopatra for which he lost the 
world, and was content to lose it. 

It will be thought strange, that, in enumerating the 
defects of this writer, I have not yet mentioned his 
^^[lect^of the unities^ his violation of those laws 
which have been instituted and established by the 
joint authority of poets and criticks. 

For his other deviations from the art of writing 
I resign him to critical justice, without making any 
other demand in his favour, than that which must 
be indulged to all human excellence : that his virtues 
be rated with his failings : But, from the censure which 
this irregularity may bring upon him, I shall, with 
due reverence to that learning which I must oppose, 
adventure to try how I can defend him. 

His histories, being neither tragedies nor comedies 
are not subject to any oijtheir laws : notjungmore is 
tn ill tTio prqi'cp whkh th*y 

f |i\ ^^[lect 


the changes of action be so prepared as to be under- 
stood, that the incidents be various and affecting, 
and the characters consistent, natural, and distinct. 
No other unity is intended, and therefore none is to 
be sought. 
In his other works he has well enough preserved the 


unity of action. He has not, indeed, an intrigue 
regularly perplexed and regularly unravelled : he does 
not endeavour to hide his design only to discover it, 
for this is seldom the order of real events, and Shake- 
speare is the poet of nature : But his plan has com- 
monly what Aristotle requires, a beginning, a middle, 
and an end ; one event is concatenated with another, 
and the conclusion follows by easy consequence. 
There are perhaps some incidents that might be 
spared, as in other poets there is much talk that only 
fills up time upon the stage ; but the general system 
makes gradual advances, and the end of the play is the 
end of expectation. 

To the unities of time and place he has shewn no 
regard ; and perhaps a nearer view of the principles 
on which they stand will diminish their value, and 
withdraw from them the veneration which, from the 
time of Corneille, they have very generally received, 
by discovering that they have given more trouble to 
the poet, than pleasure to the auditor. 

The necessity of observing the unities of time and 
place arises from the supposed necessity of making the 
drama credible. The criticks hold it impossible, that 
an action of months or years can be possibly believed 
to pass in three hours ; or that the spectator can 
suppose himself to sit in the theatre, while ambassadors 
go and return between distant kings, while armies are 
levied and towns besieged, while an exile wanders and 
returns, or till he whom they saw courting his mistress, 
shall lament the untimely fall of his son. The mind 
revolts from evident falsehood, and fiction loses its 
force when it departs from the resemblance of reality. 

From the narrow limitation of time necessarily arises 
the contraction of place. The spectator, who knows 
that he saw the first act at Alexandria, cannot suppose 
that he sees the next at Rome, at a distance to which 


not the dragons of Medea could, in so short a time, 
have transported him ; he knows with certainty that 
he has not changed his place, and he knows that place 
cannot change itself ; that what was a house cannot 
become a plain ; that what was Thebes can never be 

Such is the triumphant language with which a 
critick exults over the misery of an irregular poet, 
and exults commonly without resistance or reply. It 
is time therefore to tell him by the authority of 
Shakespeare, that he assumes, as an unquestionable 
principle, a position, which, while his breath is forming 
it into words, his understanding pronounces to be 
false. It is false, that any representation is mistake 
for reality ; that any dramatick fable in its materiality 
was ever credible, or, for a single moment, was ever 

The objection arising from the impossibility of 
passing the first hour at Alexandria, and the next at 
Rome, supposes, that when the play opens, the spectator 
really imagines himself at Alexandria, and believes 
that his walk to the theatre has been a voyage to Egypt, 
and that he lives in the days of Antony and Cleopatra. 
Surely he that imagines this may imagine more. He 
that can take the stage at one time for the palace 
of the Ptolemies, may take it in half an hour for the 
promontory of Actium. Delusion, if delusion be ad- 
mitted, has no certain limitation ; if the spectator 
can be once persuaded, that his old acquaintance are 
Alexander and C&sar, that a room illuminated with 
candles is the plain of Pharsalia,oi the bank of Granicus, 
he is in a state of elevation above the reach of reason, 
or of truth, and from the heights of empyrean poetry, 
may despise the circumscriptions of terrestrial nature. 
There is no reason why a mind thus wandering in 
extacy should count the clock, or why an hour should 


not be a century in that calenture of the brains that 
can make the stage a field. 

The truth is, that the spectators are always in their 
senses, and know, from the first act to the last, that 
the stage is only a stage, and that the players are only 
players. They came to hear a certain number of 
lines recited with just gesture and elegant modulation. 
The lines relate to some action, and an action must 
be in some place ; but the different actions that com- 
plete a story may be in places very remote from each 
other ; and where is the absurdity of allowing that 
space to represent first Athens, and then Sicily, which 
was always known to be neither Sicily nor Athens, but 
a modern theatre? 

By supposition, as place is introduced, times may 
be extended ; the time required by the fable elapses 
for the most part between the acts ; for, of so much 
of the action as is represented, the real and poetical 
duration is the same. If, in the first act, preparations 
for war against Mithridates are represented to be 
made in Rome, the event of the war may, without 
absurdity, be represented, in the catastrophe, as 
happening in Pontus ; we know that there is neither 
war, nor preparation for war ; we know that we are 
neither in Rome nor Pontus ; that neither Mithridates 
nor Lucullus are before us. The drama exhibits suc- 
cessive imitations of successive actions ; and why may 
not the second imitation represent an action that 
happened years after the first, if it be so connected with 
it, that nothing but time can be supposed to intervene ? 
Time is, of all modes of existence, most obsequious 
to the imagination ; a lapse of years is as easily con- 
ceived as a passage of hours. In contemplation we 
easily contract the time of real actions, and therefore 
willingly permit it to be contracted when we only see 
their imitation. 


It will be asked, how the drama moves, if it is not 
credited. It is credited with all the credit due to 
a drama. It is credited, whenever it moves, as a just 
picture of a real original ; as representing to the 
auditor what he would himself feel, if he were to do 
or suffer what is there feigned to be suffered or to be 
done. The reflection that strikes the heart is not, 
that the evils before us are real evils, but that they 
are evils to which we ourselves may be exposed. If 
there be any fallacy, it is not that we fancy the players, 
but that we fancy ourselves unhappy for a moment ; 
but we rather lament the possibility than suppose the 
presence of misery, as a mother weeps over her babe, 
when she remembers that death may take it from her. 
The delight of tragedy proceeds from our consciousness 
of fiction ; if we thought murders and treasons real, 
they would please no more. 

Imitations produce pain or pleasure, not because 
they are mistaken for realities, but because they bring 
realities to mind. When the imagination is recreated 
by a painted landscape, the trees are not supposed 
capable to give us shade, or the fountains coolness ; 
but we consider, how we should be pleased with such 
fountains playing beside us, and such woods waving 
over us. We are agitated in reading the history of 
Henry the Fifth, yet no man takes his book for the 
field of Agencourt. A dramatick exhibition is a book 
recited with concomitants that encrease or diminish 
its effect. Familiar comedy is often more powerful in 
the theatre, than on the page ; imperial tragedy is 
always less. The humour of Petruchio may be height- 
ened by grimace ; but what voice or what gesture can 
hope to add dignity or force to the soliloquy of Cato. 

A play read, affects the mind like a play acted. It 
is therefore evident, that the action is not supposed 
to be real ; and it follows, that between the acts 


a longer or shorter time may be allowed to pass, and 
that no more account of space or duration is to be 
taken by the auditor of a drama, than by the reader 
of a narrative, before whom may pass in an hour the 
life of a hero, or the revolutions of an empire. 

Whether Shakespeare knew the unities, and rejected 
them by design, or deviated from them by happy 
ignorance, it is, I think, impossible to decide, and 
useless to enquire. We may reasonably suppose, that, 
when he rose to notice, he did not want the counsels 
and admonitions of scholars and criticks, and that he 
at last deliberately persisted in a practice, which he 
might have begun by chance. As nothing is essential 
to the fable, but unity of action, and as the unities of 
time and place arise evidently from false assumptions, 
and, by circumscribing the extent of the drama, 
lessen its variety, I cannot think it much to be lamented, 
that they were not known by him, or not observed : 
Nor, if such another poet could arise, should I very 
vehemently reproach him, that his first act passed at 
Venice, and his next in Cyprus. Such violations of 
rules merely positive, become the comprehensive genius 
of Shakespeare, and such censures are suitable to the 
minute and slender criticism of Voltaire : 

Non usque adeo permiscuit imis 
Longus summa dies, ut non, si voce Metelli 
Serventur leges, malint a Ccesare tolli. 

Yet when I speak thus slightly of dramatick rules, 
I cannot but recollect how much wit and learning 
may be produced against me ; before such authorities 
I am afraid to stand, not that I think the present 
question one of those that are to be decided by mere 
authority, but because it is to be suspected, that these 
precepts have not been so easily received but for 
better reasons than I have yet been able to find. The 


result of my enquiries, in which it would be ludicrous 
to boast of impartiality, is, that the unities of time 
and place are not essential to a just drama, that though 
they may sometimes conduce to pleasure, they are 
always to be sacrificed to the nobler beauties of variety 
and instruction ; and that a play, written with nice 
observation of critical rules, is to be contemplated as 
an elaborate curiosity, as the product of superfluous 
and ostentatious art, by which is shewn, rather what 
is possible, than what is necessary. 

He that, without diminution of any other excellence, 
shall preserve all the unities unbroken, deserves the 
like applause with the architect, who shall display all 
the orders of architecture in a citadel, without any 
deduction from its strength ; but the principal beauty 
of a citadel is to exclude the enemy ; and the greatest 
graces of a play, are to copy nature and instruct life. 

Perhaps, what I have here not dogmatically but 
deliberatively written, may recal the principles of the 
drama to a new examination. I am almost frighted 
at my own temerity ; and when I estimate the fame 
and the strength of those that maintain the contrary 
opinion, am ready to sink down in reverential silence ; 
as JEneas withdrew from the defence of Troy, when 
he saw Neptune shaking the wall, and Juno heading 
the besiegers. 

Those whom my arguments cannot persuade to 
give their approbation to the judgment of Shakespeare, 
will easily, if they consider the condition of his life, 
make some allowance for his ignorance. 

Every man's performances, to be rightly estimated, 
must be compared with the state of the age in which 
he lived, and with his own particular opportunities ; 
and though to the reader a book be not worse or better 
for the circumstances of the authour, yet as there is 
always a silent reference of human works to human 


abilities, and as the enquiry, how far man may extend 
his designs, or how high he may rate his native force, 
is of far greater dignity than in what rank we shall 
place any particular performance, curiosity is always 
busy to discover the instruments, as well as to survey 
the workmanship, to know how much is to be ascribed 
to original powers, and how much to casual and adven- 
titious help. The palaces of Peru or Mexico were 
certainly mean and incommodious habitations, if 
compared to the houses of European monarchs ; yet 
who could forbear to view them with astonishment, 
who remembered that they were built without the 
use of iron ? 

The English nation, in the time of Shakespeare, was 
yet struggling to emerge from barbarity. The philo- 
logy of Italy had been transplanted hither in the reign 
of Henry the Eighth ; and the learned languages had 
been successfully cultivated by Lilly, Linacer, and 
More ; by Pole, Cheke, and Gardiner ; and afterwards 
by Smith, Clerk, Haddon, and Ascham. Greek was 
now taught to boys in the principal schools ; and those 
who united elegance with learning, read, with great 
diligence, the Italian and Spanish poets. But litera- 
ture was yet confined to professed scholars, or to men 
and women of high rank. The publick was gross and 
dark ; and to be able to reacTarfd write, was an accom- 
plishment still valued for its rarity. 

Nations, like individuals, have their infancy. A 
people newly awakened to literary curiosity, being yet 
unacquainted with the true state of things, knows not 
how to judge of that which is proposed as its resem- 
blance. Whatever is remote from common appear- 
ances is always welcome to vulgar, as to childish 
. credulity ; and of a country unenlightened by learning, 
^ the whole people is the vulgar. The study of those 
who then aspired to plebeian learning was laid out 


upon adventures, giants, dragons, and enchantments. 
The Death of Arthur was the favourite volume. 

The mind, which has feasted on the luxurious won- 
ders of fiction, has no taste of the insipidity of truth. 
A play which imitated only the common occurrences 
of the world, would, upon the admirers of Palmerin 
and Guy of Warwick, have made little impression ; he 
that wrote for such an audience was under the necessity 
of looking round for strange events and fabulous trans- 
actions, and that incredibility, by which maturer 
knowledge is offended, was the chief recommendation 
of writings, to unskilful curiosity. 

Our authour's plots are generally borrowed from 
novels, and it is reasonable to suppose, that he chose 
the most popular, such as were read by many, and 
related by more; fo his_audience^rmi]d^ pot have 
followed him through the intricacies of the drama, 
had they not held the thread of the story in their 

The stories, which we now find only in remoter 
authours, were in his time accessible and familiar. 
The fable of As you like it, which is supposed to be 
copied from Chaucer* 's Gamelyn, was a little pamphlet 
of those times ; and old Mr. Gibber remembered the 
tale of Hamlet in plain English prose, which the 
criticks have now to seek in Saxo Grammaticus. 

His English histories he took from English chronicles 
and English ballads ; and as the ancient writers were 
made known to his countrymen by versions, they 
supplied him with new subjects ; he dilated some of 
Plutarch's lives into plays, when they had been trans- 
lated by North. 

His plots, whether historical or fabulous, are always 
crouded with incidents, by which the attention of 
a rude people was more easily caught than by senti- 
ment or argumentation ; and such is the power of the 


marvellous even over those who despise it, that every 
man finds his mind more strongly seized by the 
tragedies of Shakespeare than of any other writer ; 
others please us by particular speeches, but he always 
makes us anxious for the event, and has perhaps 
excelled all but Homer in securing the first purpose 
of a writer, by exciting restless and unquenchable 
curiosity and compelling him that reads his work to 
read it through. 

The shows and bustle with which his plays abound 
have the same original. As knowledge advances, 
pleasure passes from the eye to the ear, but returns, 
as it declines, from the ear to the eye. Those to 
whom our authour's labours were exhibited had more 
skill in pomps or processions than in poetical language, 
and perhaps wanted some visible and discriminated 
events, as comments on the dialogue. He knew how 
he should most please ; and whether his practice is 
more agreeable to nature, or whether his example has 
prejudiced the nation, we still find that on our stage 
something must be done as well as said, and inactive 
declamation is very coldly heard, however musical or 
elegant, passionate or sublime. 

Voltaire expresses his wonder, that our authour's 
extravagances are endured by a nation, which has seen 
the tragedy of Cato. Let him be answered, that 
Addison speaks the language of poets, jind Shakespeare 
of men^ We find in Cato innumerable beauties which 
enamour us of its authour, but we see nothing that 
acquaints us with human sentiments or human actions ; 
we place it with the fairest and the noblest progeny 
which judgment propagates by conjunction with 
learning, but Othello is the vigorous and vivacious 
offspring of observation impregnated by genius. Cato 
affords a splendid exhibition of artificial and fictitious 
manners, and delivers just and noble sentiments, in 



diction easy, elevated and harmonious, but its hopes 
and fears communicate no vibration to the heart; 
the composition refers us only to the writer ; we 
pronounce the name of Cato, but we think on Addison. 

The work of a correct and regular writer is a garden 
accurately formed and diligently planted, varied with 
shades, and scented with flowers ; the composition of 
hakespeare is a forest, in which oaks extend their 
branches, and pines tower in the air, interspersed 
sometimes with weeds and brambles, and sometimes 
giving shelter to myrtles and to roses ; filling the eye 
with awful pomp, and gratifying the mind with endless 
diversity y> Other poets display cabinets of precious 
rarities, minutely finished, wrought into shape, and 
polished into brightness. Shakespeare opens a mine 
which contains gold and diamonds in unexhaustible 
plenty, though clouded by incrustations, debased by 
impurities, and mingled with a mass of meaner 

It has been much disputed, whether Shakespeare 
owed his excellence to his own native force, or whether 
he had the common helps of scholastick education, the 
precepts of critical science, and the examples of 
ancient authours. 

There has always prevailed a tradition, that Shake- 
speare wanted learning, that he had no regular educa- 
tion, nor much skill in the dead languages. Johnson, 
his friend, affirms, that he had small Latin, and no 
Greek ; who, besides that he had no imaginable 
temptation to falsehood, wrote at a time when the 
character and acquisitions of Shakespeare were known 
to multitudes. His evidence ought therefore to decide 
the controversy, unless some testimony of equal force 
could be opposed. 

Some have imagined, that they have discovered 
deep learning in many imitations of old writers ; but 


the examples which I have known urged, were drawn 
from books translated in his time ; or were such easy 
coincidences of thought, as will happen to all who 
consider the same subjects ; or such remarks on life 
or axioms of morality as float in conversation, and are 
transmitted through the world in proverbial sentences. 

I have found it remarked, that, in this important 
sentence, Go before, Pll follow, we read a translation 
of, / prae, sequar. I have been told, that when 
Caliban, after a pleasing dream, says, / cry'd to sleep 
again, the authour imitates Anacreon, who had, like 
every other man, the same wish on the same occasion. 

There are a few passages which may pass for imita- 
tions, but so few, that the exception only confirms 
the rule ; he obtained them from accidental quota- 
tions, or by oral communication, and as he used what 
he had, would have used more if he had obtained it. 

The Comedy of Errors is confessedly taken from the 
Men&chmi of Plautus ; from the only play of Plautus 
which was then in English. What can be more pro- 
bable, than that he who copied that, would have 
copied more ; but that those which were not translated 
were inaccessible? 

Whether he knew the modern languages is uncertain. 
That his plays have some French scenes proves but little ; 
he might easily procure them to be written, and pro- 
bably, even though he had known the language in the 
common degree, he could not have written it without 
assistance. In the story of Romeo and Juliet he is 
observed to have followed the English translation, 
where it deviates from the Italian ; but this on the 
other part proves nothing against his knowledge of 
the original. He was to copy, not what he knew 
himself, but what was known to his audience. 

It is most likely that he had learned Latin sufficiently 
to make him acquainted with construction, but that 

D 2 


he never advanced to an easy perusal of the Roman 
authours. Concerning his skill in modern languages, 
I can find no sufficient ground of determination ; but 
as no imitations of French or Italian authours have 
been discovered, though the Italian poetry was then 
high in esteem, I am inclined to believe, that he read 
little more than English, and chose for his fables only 
such tales as he found translated. 

That much knowledge is scattered over his works 
is very justly observed by Pope, but it is often such 
knowledge as books did not supply. He that will 
understand Shakespeare, must not be content to study 
him in the closet, he must look for his meaning some- 
times among the sports of the field, and sometimes 
among the manufactures of the shop. 

There is however proof enough that he was a very 
diligent reader, nor was our language then so indigent 
of books, but that he might very liberally indulge his 
curiosity without excursion into foreign literature. 
Many of the Roman authours were translated, and some 
of the Greek ; the reformation had filled the kingdom 
with theological learning ; most of the topicks of 
human disquisition had found English writers ; and 
poetry had been cultivated, not only with diligence, 
but success. This was a stock of knowledge sufficient 
for a mind so capable of appropriating and improving it. 

But the greater part of his excellence was the product 
of his own genius. He found the English stage in a 
state of the utmost rudeness ; no essays either in 
tragedy or comedy had appeared, from which it could 
be discovered to what degree of delight either one or 
other might be carried. Neither character nor dialogue 
were yet understood. Shakespeare may be truly said 
to have introduced them both amongst us, and in 
some of his happier scenes to have carried them both 
to the utmost height. 


By what gradations of improvement he proceeded, 
is not easily known ; for the chronology of his works 
is yet unsettled. Rowe is of opinion, that perhaps we 
are not to look for his beginning, like those of other writers, 
in his least perfect works ; art had so little, and nature 
so large a share in what he did, that for ought I know, 
says he, the performances of his youth, as they were the 
most vigorous, were the best. But the power of nature 
is only the power of using to any certain purpose the 
materials which diligence procures, or opportunity 
supplies. Nature gives no man knowledge, and when 
images are collected by study and experience, can 
only assist in combining or applying them. Shake- 
speare, however favoured by nature, could impart only 
what he had learned ; and as he must increase his 
ideas, like other mortals, by gradual acquisition, he, 
like them, grew wiser as he grew older, could display 
life better, as he knew it more, and instruct with more 
efficacy, as he was himself more amply instructed. 

There is a vigilance of observation and accuracy of 
distinction which books and precepts cannot confer ; 
from this almost all original and native excellence 
proceeds. Shakespeare must have looked upon man- 
kind with perspicacity, in the highest degree curious 
and attentive. Other writers borrow their characters 
from preceding writers, and diversify them only by the 
accidental appendages of present manners ; the dress 
is a little varied, but the body is the same. Our 
authour had both matter and form to provide ; for 
except the characters of Chaucer, to whom I think he 
is not much indebted, there were no writers in English, 
and perhaps not many in other modern languages, 
which shewed life in its native colours. 

The contest about the original benevolence or 
malignity of man had not yet commenced. Specula- 
tion had not yet attempted to analyse the mind, to 


trace the passions of their sources, to unfold the 
seminal principles of vice and virtue, or sound the 
depths of the heart for the motives of action. All 
those enquiries, which from that time that human 
nature became the fashionable study, have been made 
sometimes with nice discernment, but often with idle 
subtilty, were yet unattempted. The tales, with 
which the infancy of learning was satisfied, exhibited 
only the superficial appearances of action, related the 
events but omitted the causes, and were formed for 
such as delighted in wonders rather than in truth. 
Mankind was not then to be studied in the closet ; 
he that would know the world, was under the necessity 
of gleaning his own remarks, by mingling as he could 
in its business and amusements. 

Boyle congratulated himself upon his high birth, 
because it favoured his curiosity, by facilitating his 
access. Shakespeare had no such advantage ; he came 
to London a needy adventurer, and lived for a time 
by very mean employments. Many works of genius 
and learning have been performed in states of life, 
that appear very little favourable to thought or to 
enquiry ; so many, that he who considers them is 
inclined to think that he sees enterprise and perse- 
verance predominating over all external agency, and 
bidding help and hindrance vanish before them. The 
genius of Shakespeare was not to be depressed by the 
weight of poverty, nor limited by the narrow conversa- 
tion to which men in want are inevitably condemned ; 
the incumbrances of his fortune were shaken from his 
mind, as dewdrops from a lion's mane. 

Though he had so many difficulties to encounter, 
and so little assistance to surmount them, me has been 
able to obtain an exact knowledge of many modes of 
life, and many casts of native dispositions ; to vary 
them with great multiplicity ; to mark them by nice 


distinctions ; and to shew them in full view by proper 
combinations. / In this part of his performances he had 
none to imitate, but has himself been imitated by all 
succeeding writers ; and it may be doubted, whether 
from all his successors more maxims of theoretical 
knowledge, or more rules of practical prudence, can 
be collected, than he alone has given to his country. 

Nor was his attention confined to the actions of 
men : he was an exact surveyor of the inanimate 
world ; his descriptions have always some peculiarities, 
gathered by contemplating things as they really exist. 
It may be observed, that the oldest poets of many 
nations preserve their reputation, and that the follow- 
ing generations of wit, after a short celebrity, sink into 
oblivion. The first, whoever they be, must take their 
sentiments and descriptions immediately from know- 
ledge ; the resemblance is therefore just, their descrip- 
tions are verified by every eye, and their sentiments 
acknowledged by every breast. Those whom their 
fame invites to the same studies, copy partly them, 
and partly nature, till the books of one age gain such 
authority, as to stand in the place of nature to another, 
and imitation, always deviating a little, becomes at 
last capricious and casual. Shakespeare, whether life 
or nature be his subject, shews plainly, that he has 
seen with his own eyes ; he gives the image which he 
receives, not weakened or distorted by the intervention 
of any other mind ; the ignorant feel his representa- 
tions to be just, and the learned see that they are 

Perhaps it would not be easy to find any authour, 
except Homer, who invented so much as Shakespeare, 
who so much advanced the studies which he cultivated, 
or effused so much novelty upon his age or country. 
^ The form, the characters, the language, and the shows 
of the English drama are his. He seems, says Dennis, 


to have been the very original of our English tragical 
harmony, that is, the harmony of blank verse, diversified 
often by dissyllable and trissyllable terminations. For 
the diversity distinguishes it from heroick harmony, and 
by bringing it nearer to common use makes it more proper 
to gain attention, and more fit for action and dialogue. 
Such verse we make when we are writing prose ; we make 
such verse in common conversation. 
> I know not whether this praise is rigorously just. 
The dissyllable termination, which the critick rightly 
appropriates to the drama, is to be found, though, 
I think, not in Gorboduc which is confessedly before 
our authour ; yet in Hieronnymo, of which the date is 
not certain, but which there is reason to believe at 
least as old as his earliest plays. This however is 
certain, that he is the first who taught either tragedy 
or comedy to please, there being no theatrical piece of 
any older writer, of which the name is known, except 
to antiquaries and collectors of books, which are sought 
because they are scarce, and would not have been 
scarce, had they been much esteemed. 

To him we must ascribe the praise, unless Spenser 
may divide it with him, of having first discovered V 
to how much smoothness and harmony the English 
language could be softened. He has speeches, perhaps 
sometimes scenes, which have all the delicacy of Rowe, 
without his effeminacy. He endeavours indeed com- 
monly to strike by the force and vigour of his dialogue, 
but he never executes his purpose better, than when 
he tries to sooth by softness. 

Yet it must be at last confessed, that as we owe 
every thing to him, he owes something to us ; that, 
if much of his praise is paid by perception and judge- 
ment, much is likewise given by custom and venera- 
tion. We fix our eyes upon his graces, and turn them 
from his deformities, and endure in him what we 


should in another loath or despise. If we endured 
without praising, respect for the father of our drama 
might excuse us ; but I have seen, in the book of some 
modern critick, a collection of anomalies, which shew 
that he has corrupted language by every mode of 
depravation, but which his admirer has accumulated 
as a monument of honour. 

He has scenes of undoubted and perpetual excel- 
lence, but perhaps not one play, which, if it were now 
exhibited as the work of a contemporary writer, would 
be heard to the conclusion. I am indeed far hom\(. 
thinking, that his works were wrought to his own 
ideas of perfection ; when they were such as would 
satisfy_ the^i^ence^^thfiy.. satisfied the writer. It is 
seLJbnTtriat authours, though more studious of fame 
than Shakespeare, rise much above the standard of 
their own age ; to add a little of what is best will 
always be sufficient for present praise, and those who 
find themselves exalted into fame, are willing to credit 
their encomiasts, and to spare the labour of contending 
with themselves. 

It does not appear, that Shakespeare thought his 
works worthy of posterity, that he levied any ideal 
tribute upon future times, or had any further prospect, 
than of present popularity and present profit When 
his plays had been acted, his hope was at an end ; he 
solicited no addition of honour from the reader. He 
therefore made no scruple to repeat the same jests in 
many dialogues, or to entangle different plots by the 
same knot of perplexity, which may be at least forgiven 
him, by those who recollect, that of Congreve's four 
comedies, two are concluded by a marriage in a mask, 
by a deception, which perhaps never happened, and 
which, whether likely or not, he did not invent. 

So careless was this great poet of future fame, that, 
though he retired to ease and plenty, while he was 


yet little declined into the vale of years, before he could 
be disgusted with fatigue, or disabled by infirmity, he 
made no collection of his works, nor desired to rescue 
those that had been already published from the 
depravations that obscured them, or secure to the rest 
a better destiny, by giving them to the world in their 
genuine state. 

Of the plays which bear the name of Shakespeare in 
e late editions, the greater part were not published 
till about seven years after his death, and the few which 
appeared in his life are apparently thrust into the world 
without the care of the authour, and therefore probably 
without his knowledge. 

)/ Of all the publishers, clandestine or professed, their 
negligence and unskilfulness has by the late revisers 
been sufficiently shown.,*- The faults of all are indeed 
numerous and gross, and have not only corrupted 
many passages perhaps beyond recovery, but have 
brought others into suspicion, which are only obscured 
by obsolete phraseology, or by the writer's unskilful- 
ness and affectation./ To alter is more easy than to 
explain, and temerity is a more common quality than 
diligence. Those who saw that they must employ 
conjecture to a certain degree, were willing to indulge 
it a little further. ^cHad the authour published his 
own works, we should have sat quietly down to disen- 
tangle his intricacies, and clear his obscurities ; but 
now we tear what we cannot loose, and eject what we 
happen not to understand. ) 

The faults are more than could have happened 
without the concurrence of many causes. The stile 
of Shakespeare was in itself ungrammatical, perplexed 
and obscure ; his works were transcribed for the 
players by those who may be supposed to have seldom 
understood them ; they were transmitted by copiers 
equally unskilful, who still multiplied errours ; they 


were perhaps sometimes mutilated by the actors, for 
the sake of shortening the speeches ; and were at last 
printed without correction of the press. 

In this state they remained, not as Dr. Warburton 
supposes, because they were unregarded, but because 
the editor's art was not yet applied to modern lan- 
guages, and our ancestors were accustomed to so much 
negligence of English printers, that they could very 
patiently endure it. At last an edition was undertaken 
by Rowe ; not because a poet was to be published by 
a poet, for Rowe seems to have thought very little on 
correction or explanation, but that our authour's works 
might appear like those of his fraternity, with the 
appendages of a life and recommendatory preface. 
Rowe has been clamorously blamed for not performing 
what he did not undertake, and it is time that justice 
be done him, by confessing, that though he seems to 
have had no thought of corruption beyond the printer's 
errours, yet he has made many emendations, if they 
were not made before, which his successors have re- 
ceived without acknowledgement, and which, if they 
had produced them, would have filled pages and pages 
with censures of the stupidity by which the faults were 
committed, with displays of the absurdities which they 
involved, with ostentatious expositions of the new 
reading, and self congratulations on the happiness of 
discovering it. 

Of Rowe, as of all the editors, I have preserved the 
preface, ana have likewise retained the authour's life, 
though not written with much elegance or spirit ; it 
relates however what is now to be known, and there- 
fore deserves to pass through all succeeding publi- 

The nation had been for many years content enough 
with Mr. Rowe*s performance, when Mr. Pope made 
them acquainted with the true state of Shakespeare's 


text, shewed that it was extremely corrupt, and gave 
reason to hope that there were means of reforming it. 
He collated the old copies, which none had thought 
to examine before, and restored many lines to their 
integrity ; but, by a very compendious criticism, he 
rejected whatever he disliked, and thought more of 
amputation than of cure. 

I know not why he is commended by Dr. Warburton 
for distinguishing the genuine from the spurious plays. 
In this choice he exerted no judgement of his own ; 
the plays which he received, wef e~ given by Hemings 
and Condel, the first editors ; and those which he 
rejected, though, according to the licentiousness of 
the press in those times, they were printed during 
Shakespeare's life, with his name, had been omitted 
by his friends, and were never added to his works 
before the edition of 1664, from which they were 
copied by the later printers. 

This was a work which Pope seems to have thought 
unworthy of his abilities, being not able to suppress 
his contempt of the dull duty of an editor. He under- 
stood but half his undertaking. The duty of a collator 
is indeed dull, yet, like other tedious tasks, is very 
necessary ; but an emendatory critick would ill dis- 
charge his duty, without qualities very different from 
dullness. In perusing a corrupted piece, he must have 
before him all possibilities of meaning, with all possi- 
bilities of expression. Such must be his comprehension 
of thought, and such his copiousness of language. Out 
of many readings possible, he must be able to select 
that which best suits with the state, opinions, and 
modes of language prevailing in every age, and with 
his authour's particular cast of thought, and turn of 
expression. Such must be his knowledge, and such 
his taste. Conjectural criticism demands more than 
humanity possesses, and he that exercises it with most 


praise has very frequent need of indulgence. Let us 
now be told no more of the dull duty of an editor. 

Confidence is the common consequence of success. 
They whose excellence of any kind has been loudly 
celebrated, are t ready to conclude, that their powers 
are umversal/^Pofti's edition fell below his own ex- 
pectations, and he was so much offended, when he 
was found to have left any thing for others to do, 
that he past the latter part of his life in a state of 
hostility with verbal criticism. 

I have retained all his notes, that no fragment of 
so great a writer may be lost ; his preface, valuable 
alike for elegance of composition and justness of 
remark, and containing a general criticism on his 
authour, so extensive that little can be added, and 
so exact, that little can be disputed, every editor has 
an interest to suppress, but that every reader would 
demand its insertion. ..q\ 

Pope was succeeded bjt Theobald^ a man of narrow 
comprehension and small acquisitions, with no native 
and intrinsick splendour of genius, with little of the 
artificial light of learning, but zealous for minute 
accuracy, and not negligent in pursuing it. He 
collated the ancient copies, and rectified many errors. 
A man so anxiously scrupulous might have been 
expected to do more, but what little he did was com- 
monly right. 

In his report of copies and editions he is not to be 
trusted, without examination. He speaks sometimes 
indefinitely of copies, when he has only one. In his 
enumeration of editions, he mentions the two first 
folios as of high, and the third folio as of middle 
authority ; but the truth is, that the first is equivalent 
to all others, and that the rest only deviate from it by 
the printer's negligence. Whoever has any of the 
folios has all, excepting those diversities which mere 


reiteration of editions will produce. I collated them 
all at the beginning, but afterwards used only the first. 

Of his notes I have generally retained those which 
he retained himself in his second edition, except when 
they were confuted by subsequent annotators, or were 
too minute to merit preservation. I have sometimes 
adopted his restoration of a comma, without inserting 
the panegyrick in which he celebrated himself for his 
atchievement. The exuberant excrescence of his 
diction I have often lopped, his triumphant exulta- 
tions over Pope and Rowe I have sometimes suppressed, 
and his contemptible ostentation I have frequently 
concealed ; but I have in some places shewn him, as 
he would have shewn himself, for the reader's diversion, 
that the inflated emptiness of some notes may justify 
or excuse the contraction of the rest. 

Theobald, thus weak and ignorant, thus mean and 
faithless, thus petulant and ostentatious, by the good 
luck of having Pope for his enemy, has escaped, and 
escaped alone, with reputation, from this undertaking. 
So willingly does the world support those who solicite 
favour, against those who command reverence ; and 
so easily is he praised, whom no man can envy. 

Our authour fell then into the hands of Sir Thomas 
Hanmer, the Oxford editor, a man, in my opinion, 
eminently qualified by nature for such studies. He 
had, what is the first requisite to emendatory criticism, 
that intuition by which the poet's intention is imme- 
diately discovered, and that dexterity of intellect which 
despatches its work by the easiest means. He had 
undoubtedly read much ; his acquaintance with cus- 
toms, opinions, and traditions, seems to have been 
large ; and he is often learned without shew. He 
seldom passes what he does not understand, without 
an attempt to find or to make a meaning, and some- 
times hastily makes what a little more attention would 


have found. He is solicitous to reduce to grammar, 
what he could not be sure that his authour intended 
to be grammatical. ^Shakespeare regarded more the 


series of ideas, than nf wnr^fl and his language, not 

being designed for the reader's desk, was all that he 
desired it to be, if it conveyed his meaning to the 
audience. / 

Hanmer\ care of the metre has been too violently 
censured. He found the measures reformed in so 
many passages, by the silent labours of some editors, 
with the silent acquiescence of the rest, that he 
thought himself allowed to extend a little further the 
license, which had already been carried so far without 
reprehension ; and of his corrections in general, it 
must be confessed, that they are often just, and made 
commonly with the least possible violation of the text. 

But, by inserting his emendations, whether invented 
or borrowed, into the page, without any notice of 
varying copies, he has appropriated the labour of his 
predecessors, and made his own edition of little 
authority. His confidence indeed, both in himself 
and others, was too great ; he supposes all to be right 
that was done by Pope and Theobald ; he seems not 
to suspect a critick of fallibility, and it was but reason- 
able that he should claim what he so liberally granted. 

As he never writes without careful enquiry and 
diligent consideration, I have received all his notes, 
and believe that every reader will wish for more. 

Of the last editor it is more difficult to speak. 
Respect is due to high place, tenderness to living 
reputation, and veneration to genius and learning ; 
but he cannot be justly offended at that liberty of which 
he has himself so frequently given an example, nor very 
solicitous what is thought of notes, which he ought 
never to have considered as part of his serious employ- 
ments, and which, I suppose, since the ardour of com- 


position is remitted, he no longer numbers among his 
happy effusions. 

The original and predominant errour of his com- 
mentary, is acquiescence in his first thoughts ; that 
precipitation which is produced by consciousness of 
quick discernment ; and that confidence which pre- 
sumes to do, by surveying the surface, what labour 
only can perform, by penetrating the bottom. His 
notes exhibit sometimes perverse interpretations, and 
sometimes improbable conjectures ; he at one time 
gives the authour more profundity of meaning, than 
the sentence admits, and at another discovers absurdi- 
ties, where the sense is plain to every other reader. 
But his emendations are likewise often happy and 
just ; and his interpretation of obscure passages learned 
and sagacious. 

Of his notes, I have commonly rejected those, 
against which the general voice of the publick has 
exclaimed, or which their own incongruity imme- 
diately condemns, and which, I suppose, the authour 
himself would desire to be forgotten. Of the rest, to 
part I have given the highest approbation, by inserting 
the offered reading in the text ; part I have left to 
the judgment of the reader, as doubtful, though 
specious ; and part I have censured without reserve, 
but I am sure without bitterness of malice, and, I hope, 
without wantonness of insult. 

It is no pleasure to me, in revising my volumes, to 
observe how much paper is wasted in confutation. 
Whoever considers the revolutions of learning, and 
the various questions of greater or less importance, 
upon which wit and reason have exercised their powers, 
must lament the unsuccessfulness of enquiry, and the 
slow advances of truth, when he reflects, that great 
part of the labour of every writer is only the destruc- 
tion of those that went before him. The first care 


of the builder of a new system, is to demolish the 
fabricks which are standing. The chief desire of him 
that comments an authour, is to shew how much 
other commentators have corrupted and obscured 
him. The opinions prevalent in one age, as truths 
above the reach of controversy, are confuted and 
rejected in another, and rise again to reception in 
remoter times. Thus the human mind is kept in 
motion without progress. Thus sometimes truth and 
errour, and sometimes contrarieties of errour, take 
each other's place by reciprocal invasion. The tide of 
seeming knowledge which is poured over one genera- 
tion, retires and leaves another naked and barren ; 
the sudden meteors of intelligence which for a while 
appear to shoot their beams into the regions of 
obscurity, on a sudden withdraw their lustre, and 
leave mortals again to grope their way. 

These elevations and depressions of renown, and 
the contradictions to which all improvers of knowledge 
must for ever be exposed, since they are not escaped 
by the highest and brightest of mankind, may surely 
be endured with patience by criticks and annotators, 
who can rank themselves but as the satellites of their 
authours. How canst thou beg for life, says Achilles 
to his captive, when thou knowest that thou art now 
to suffer only what must another day be suffered by 

Dr. Warbyrtnn had a name sufficient to confer 
celebrity on those who could exalt themselves into 
antagonists, and his notes have raised a clamour too 
loud to be distinct. His chief assailants are the 
authours of the Canons of criticism and of the Review 
of Shakespeare'.* text; of whom one ridicules his 
errours with air petulance, suitable enough to the 
levity of the controversy ; the other attacks them 
with gloomy malignity, as if he were dragging to 



justice an assassin or incendiary. The one stings like 
a fly, sucks a little blood, takes a gay flutter, and returns 
for more ; the other bites like a viper, and would be 
glad to leave inflammations and gangrene behind him. 
When I think on one, with his confederates, I remem- 
ber the danger of Coriolanus, who was afraid that girls 
with spits, and boys with stones, should slay him in puny 
battle ; when the other crosses my imagination, I re- 
member the prodigy in Macbeth, 

An eagle towering in his -pride of place, 
Was by a mousing owl hawk'd at and killed. 

Let me however do them justice. One is a wit, 
and one a scholar. They have both shown acuteness 
sufficient in the discovery of faults, and have both 
advanced some probable interpretations of obscure 
passages ; but when they aspire to conjecture and 
emendation, it appears how falsely we all estimate 
our own abilities, and the little which they have been 
able to perform might have taught them more candour 
to the endeavours of others. 

Before Dr. Warburtorfs edition, Critical observations 
on Shakespeare had been published by Mr. Upton, 
a man skilled in languages, and acquainted with books, 
but who seems to have had no great vigour of genius 
or nicety of taste. Many of his explanations are 
curious and useful, but he likewise, though he pro- 
fessed to oppose the licentious confidence of editors, 
and adhere to the old copies, is unable to restrain the 
rage of emendation, though his ardour is ill seconded 
by his skill. Every cold empirick, when his heart is 
expanded by a successful experiment, swells into a 
theorist, and the laborious collator at some unlucky 
moment frolicks in conjecture. 

Critical, historical and explanatory notes have been 
likewise published upon Shakespeare by Dr. Grey, 


whose diligent perusal of the old English writers has 
enabled him to make some useful observations. What 
he undertook he has well enough performed, but as 
he neither attempts judicial nor emendatory criticism, 
he employs rather his memory than his sagacity. It 
were to be wished that all would endeavour to imitate 
his modesty who have not been able to surpass his 

I can say with great sincerity of all my predecessors, 
what I hope will hereafter be said of me, that not one 
has left Shakespeare without improvement, nor is there 
one to whom I have not been indebted for assistance 
and information. Whatever I have taken from them 
it was my intention to refer to its original authour, 
and it is certain, that what I have not given to another, 
I believed when I wrote it to be my own. In some 
perhaps I have been anticipated ; but if I am ever 
found to encroach upon the remarks of any other 
commentator, I am willing that the honour, be it more 
or less, should be transferred to the first claimant, for 
his right, and his alone, stands above dispute ; the 
second can prove his pretensions only to himself, nor 
can himself always distinguish invention, with sufficient 
certainty, from recollection. 

They have all been treated by me with candour, 
which they have not been careful of observing to one 
another. It is not easy to discover from what cause 
the acrimony of a scholiast can naturally proceed. 
The subjects to be discussed by him are of very 
small importance ; they involve neither property 
nor liberty ; nor favour the interest of sect or party. 
The various readings of copies, and different inter- 
pretations of a passage, seem to be questions that 
might exercise the wit, without engaging the passions. 
But, whether it be, that small things make mean men 
proud, and vanity catches small occasions ; or that all 



contrariety of opinion, even in those that can defend 
it no longer, makes proud men angry ; there is often 
found in commentaries a spontaneous strain of invec- 
tive and contempt, more eager and venomous than 
is vented by the most furious controvertist in politicks 
against those whom he is hired to defame. 

Perhaps the lightness of the matter may conduce 
to the vehemence of the agency ; when the truth to 
be investigated is so near to inexistence, as to escape 
attention, its bulk is to be enlarged by rage and 
exclamation : That to which all would be indifferent 
in its original state, may attract notice when the fate 
of a name is appended to it. A commentator has 
indeed great temptations to supply by turbulence 
what he wants of dignity, to beat his little gold to 
a spacious surface, to work that to foam which no art 
or diligence can exalt to spirit. 

The notes which I have borrowed or written are 
either illustrative, by which difficulties are explained ; 
or judicial, by which faults and beauties are remarked ; 
or emendatory, by which depravations are corrected. 

The explanations transcribed from others, if I do 
not subjoin any other interpretation, I suppose com- 
monly to be right, at least I intend by acquiescence 
to confess, that I have nothing better to propose. 

After the labours of all the editors, I found many 
passages which appeared to me likely to obstruct the 
greater number of readers, and thought it my duty 
to facilitate their passage. It is impossible for an 
expositor not to write too little for some, and too 
much for others. He can only judge what is necessary 
by his own experience ; and how long soever he may 
deliberate, will at last explain many lines which the 
learned will think impossible to be mistaken, and omit 
many for which the ignorant will want his help. These 
are censures merely relative, and must be quietly 


endured. I have endeavoured to be neither super- N 
fluously copious, nor scrupulously reserved, and hope / 
that I have made my authour's meaning accessible to 
many who before were frighted from perusing him, \ 
and contributed something to the publick, by diffusing^) 
innocent and rational pleasure. 

The compleat explanation of an authour not 
systematick and consequential, but desultory and 
vagrant, abounding in casual allusions and light hints, 
is not to be expected from any single scholiast. All 
personal reflections, when names are suppressed, must 
be in a few years irrecoverably obliterated; and cus- 
toms, too minute to attract the notice of law, such as 
modes of dress, formalities of conversation, rules of 
visits, disposition of furniture, and practices of cere- 
mony, which naturally find places in familiar dialogue, 
are so fugitive and unsubstantial, that they are not 
easily retained or recovered. What can be known, 
will be collected by chance, from the recesses of 
obscure and obsolete papers, perused commonly with 
some other view. Of this knowledge every man has 
some, and none has much ; but when an authour has 
engaged the publick attention, those who can add any 
thing to his illustration, communicate their discoveries, 
and time produces what had eluded diligence. 

To time I have been obliged to resign many passages, 
which, though I did not understand them, will perhaps 
hereafter be explained, having, I hope, illustrated 
some, which others have neglected or mistaken, some- 
times by short remarks, or marginal directions, such 
as every editor has added at his will, and often by 
comments more laborious than the matter will seem to 
deserve ; but that which is most difficult is not always 
most important, and to an editor nothing is a trifle 
by which his authour is obscured. 

The poetical beauties or defects I have not been 


very diligent to observe. Some plays have more, and 
some fewer judicial observations, not in proportion to 
their difference of merit, but because I gave this part 
of my design to chance and to caprice. The reader, 
I believe, is seldom pleased to find his opinion antici- 
pated ; it is natural to delight more in what we find 
or make, than in what we receive. Judgement, like 
other faculties, is improved by practice, and its 
advancement is hindered by submission to dictatorial 
decisions, as the memory grows torpid by the use of 
a table book. Some initiation is however necessary ; 
of all skill, part is infused by precept, and part is 
obtained by habit ; I have therefore shewn so much 
as may enable the candidate of criticism to discover 
the rest. 

To the end of most plays, I have added short 
strictures, containing a general censure of faults, or 
praise of excellence ; in which I know not how much 
I have concurred with the current opinion ; but 
I have not, by any affectation of singularity, deviated 
from it. Nothing is minutely and particularly 
examined, and therefore it is to be supposed, that in 
the plays which are condemned there is much to be 
praised, and in these which are praised much to be 

The part of criticism in which the whole succession 
of editors has laboured with the greatest diligence, 
I which has occasioned the most arrogant ostentation, 
and excited the keenest acrimony, is the emendation 
of corrupted passages, to which the publick attention 
having been first drawn by the violence of contention 
between Pope and Theobald, has been continued by the 
persecution, which, with a kind of conspiracy, has been 
since raised against all the publishers of Shakespeare. 

That many passages have passed in a state of deprava- 
tion through all the editions is indubitably certain ; 


of these the restoration is only to be attempted by 
collation of copies or sagacity of conjecture. The 
collator's province is safe and easy, the conjecturer's 
perilous and difficult. Yet as the greater part of the 
plays are extant only in one copy, the peril must not 
be avoided, nor the difficulty refused. 

Of the readings which this emulation of amendment 
has hitherto produced, some from the labours of every 
publisher I have advanced into the text ; those are 
to be considered as in my opinion sufficiently sup- 
ported ; some I have rejected without mention, as 
evidently erroneous ; some I have left in the notes 
without censure or approbation, as resting in equipoise 
between objection and defence ; and some, which 
seemed specious but not right, I have inserted with 
a subsequent animadversion. 

Having classed the observations of others, I was at 
last to try what I could substitute for their mistakes, 
and how I could supply their omissions. I collated 
such copies as I could procure, and wished for more, 
but have not found the collectors of these rarities very 
communicative. Of the editions which chance or 
kindness put into my hands I have given an enumera- 
tion, that I may not be blamed for neglecting what 
I had not the power to do. 

By examining the old copies, I soon found that the 
later publishers, with all their boasts of diligence, 
suffered many passages to stand unauthorised, and 
contented themselves with Rowe's regulation of the 
text, even where they knew it to be arbitrary, and 
with a little consideration might have found it to be 
wrong. Some of these alterations are only the ejection 
of a word for one that appeared to him more elegant 
or more intelligible. These corruptions I have often 
silently rectified ; for the history of our language, and 
the true force of our words, can only be preserved, 


by keeping the text of authours free from adulteration. 
Others, and those very frequent, smoothed the cadence, 
or regulated the measure ; on these I have not exer- 
cised the same rigour ; if only a word was transposed, 
or a particle inserted or omitted, I have sometimes 
suffered the line to stand ; for the inconstancy of the 
copies is such, as that some liberties may be easily 
permitted. But this practice I have not suffered to 
proceed far, having restored the primitive diction 
wherever it could for any reason be preferred. 

The emendations, which comparison of copies 
supplied, I have inserted in the text ; sometimes where 
the improvement was slight, without notice, and some- 
times with an account of the reasons of the change. 

Conjecture, though it be sometimes unavoidable, 
I have not wantonly nor licentiously indulged. 
been my settled principle, that the reading of the 
alicient books is probably true, and therefore is not to 
be disturbed for the sake of elegance, perspicuity, or 
mere improvement of the sense. For though much 
credit is not due to the fidelity, nor any to the judge- 
ment of the first publishers, yet they who had the copy 
before their eyes were more likely to read it right, than 
we who read it only by imagination. But it is evident 
that they have often made strange mistakes by ignorance 
or negligence, and that therefore something may be 
properly attempted by criticism, keeping the middle 
way between presumption and timidity. 

Such criticism I have attempted to practice, and 
where any passage appeared inextricably perplexed, 
have endeavoured to discover how it may be recalled 
to sense, with least violence. But my first labour is, 
always to turn the old text on every side, and try if 
there be any interstice, through which light can find 
its way ; nor would Huetius himself condemn me, as 
refusing the trouble of research, for the ambition of 


alteration. In this modest industry I have not been 
unsuccessful. I have rescued many lines from the 
violations of temerity, and secured many scenes from 
the inroads of correction. I have adopted the Roman 
sentiment, that it is more honourable to save a citizen, 
than to kill an enemy, and have been more careful to 
protect than to attack. 

I have preserved the common distribution of the 
plays into acts, though I believe it to be in almost all 
the plays void of authority. Some of those which are 
divided in the later editions have no division in the 
first folio, and some that are divided in the folio have 
no division in the preceding copies. The settled mode 
of the theatre requires four intervals in the play, but 
few, if any, of our authour's compositions can be 
properly distributed in that manner. An act is so 
much of the drama as passes without intervention of 
time or change of place. A pause makes a new act. 
In every real, and therefore in every imitative action, 
the intervals may be more or fewer, the restriction of 
five acts being accidental and arbitrary. This Shake- 
speare knew, and this he practised ; his plays were 
written, and at first printed in one unbroken con- 
tinuity, and ought now to be exhibited with short 
pauses, interposed as often as the scene is changed, or 
any considerable time is required to pass. This method 
would at once quell a thousand absurdities. 

In restoring the authour's works to their integrity, 
I have considered the punctuation as wholly in my 
power ; for what could be their care of colons and 
commas, who corrupted words and sentences. What- 
ever could be done by adjusting points is therefore 
silently performed, in some plays with much diligence, 
in others with less ; it is hard to keep a busy eye 
steadily fixed upon evanescent atoms, or a discursive 
mind upon evanescent truth. 


The same liberty has been taken with a few particles, 
or other words of slight effect. I have sometimes 
inserted or omitted them without notice. I have 
done that sometimes, which the other editors have 
done always, and which indeed the state of the text 
may sufficiently justify. 

The greater part of readers, instead of blaming us 
for passing trifles, will wonder that on mere trifles so 
much labour is expended, with such importance of 
debate, and such solemnity of diction. To these 
I answer with confidence, that they are judging of an 
art which they do not understand ; yet cannot much 
reproach them with their ignorance, nor promise that 
they would become in general, by learning criticism, 
more useful, happier or wiser. 

As I practised conjecture more, I learned to trust 
it less ; and after I had printed a few plays, resolved 
to insert none of my own readings in the text. Upon 
this caution I now congratulate myself, for every day 
encreases my doubt of my emendations. 

Since I have confined my imagination to the margin, 
it must not be considered as very reprehensible, if I 
have suffered it to play some freaks in its own dominion. 
There is no danger in conjecture, if it be proposed 
as conjecture ; and while the text remains uninjured, 
those changes may be safely offered, which are not 
considered even by him that offers them as necessary 
or safe. 

If my readings are of little value, they have not been 
ostentatiously displayed or importunately obtruded. 
I could have written longer notes, for the art of 
writing notes is not of difficult attainment. The work 
is performed, first by railing at the stupidity, negligence, 
ignorance, and asinine tastelessness of the former 
editors, and shewing, from all that goes before and all 
that follows, the inelegance and absurdity of the old 


reading ; then by proposing something, which to 
superficial readers would seem specious, but which 
the editor rejects with indignation ; then by producing 
the true reading, with a long paraphrase, and concluding 
with loud acclamations on the discovery, and a sober 
wish for the advancement and prosperity of genuine 

All this may be done, and perhaps done sometimes 
without impropriety. But I have always suspected 
that the reading is right, which requires many words 
to prove it wrong ; and the emendation wrong, that 
cannot without so much labour appear to be right. 
The justness of a happy restoration strikes at once, 
and the moral precept may be well applied to criticism, 
quod dubitas ne feceris. 

To dread the shore which he sees spread with wrecks, 
is natural to the sailor. I had before my eye, so many 
critical adventures ended in miscarriage, that caution 
was forced upon me. I encountered in every page Wit 
struggling with its own sophistry, and Learning con- 
fused by the multiplicity of its views. I was forced 
to censure those whom I admired, and could not but 
reflect, while I was dispossessing their emendations, 
how soon the same fate might happen to my own, and 
how many of the readings which I have corrected may 
be by some other editor defended and established 

Criticks, I saw, that other's names' efface. 
And fix their own, with labour, in the place ; 
Their own, like others, soon their place resigned, 
Or disappeared, and left the first behind. POPE. 

That a conjectural critick should often be mistaken, 
cannot be wonderful, either to others or himself, if 
it be considered, that in his art there is no system, 
no principal and axiomatical truth that regulates 
subordinate positions. His chance of errour is re- 


newed at every attempt ; an oblique view of the 
passage, a slight misapprehension of a phrase, a casual 
inattention to the parts connected, is sufficient to 
make him not only fail, but fail ridiculously ; and 
when he succeeds best, he produces perhaps but one 
reading of many probable, and he that suggests another 
will always be able to dispute his claims. 

It is an unhappy state, in which danger is hid under 
pleasure. The allurements of emendation are scarcely 
resistible. Conjecture has all the joy and all the pride 
of invention, and he that has once started a happy 
change, is too much delighted to consider what objec- 
tions may rise against it. 

Yet conjectural criticism has been of great use in the 
learned world ; nor is it my intention to depreciate 
a study, that has exercised so many mighty minds, 
from the revival of learning to our own age, from the 
Bishop of Aleria to English Bentley. The criticks on 
ancient authours have, in the exercise of their sagacity, 
many assistances, which the editor of Shakespeare is 
condemned to want. They are employed upon gram- 
matical and settled languages, whose construction con- 
tributes so much to perspicuity, that Homer has fewer 
passages unintelligible than Chaucer. The words have 
not only a known regimen, but invariable quantities, 
which direct and confine the choice. There are com- 
monly more manuscripts than one ; and they do not 
often conspire in the same mistakes. Yet Scaliger 
could confess to Salmasius how little satisfaction his 
emendations gave him. Illudunt nobis conjecture no- 
strce, quarum nos pudet, posteaquam in meliores codices 
incidimus. And Lipsius could complain, that criticks 
were making faults, by trying to remove them, Ut 
olim vitiis, ita nunc remediis laboratur. And indeed, 
where mere conjecture is to be used, the emendations 
of Scaliger and Lipsius, notwithstanding their wonder- 


ful sagacity and erudition, are often vague and dis- 
putable, like mine or Theobald's. 

Perhaps I may not be more censured for doing 
wrong, than for doing little ; for raising in the publick 
expectations, which at last I have not answered. The 
expectation of ignorance is indefinite, and that of 
knowledge is often tyrannical. It is hard to satisfy 
those who know not what to demand, or those who 
demand by design what they think impossible to be 
done. I have indeed disappointed no opinion more 
than my own ; yet I have endeavoured to perform my 
task with no slight solicitude. Not a single passage 
in the whole work has appeared to me corrupt, which 
I have not attempted to restore ; or obscure, which 
I have not endeavoured to illustrate. In many I have 
failed like others ; and from many, after all my efforts, 
I have retreated, and confessed the repulse. I have 
not passed over, with affected superiority, what is 
equally difficult to the reader and to myself, but where 
I could not instruct him, have owned my ignorance. 
I might easily have accumulated a mass of seeming 
learning upon easy scenes ; but it ought not to be 
imputed to negligence, that, where nothing was 
necessary, nothing has been done, or that, where others 
have said enough, I have said no more. 

Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary 
(evils. Let him, that is yet unacquainted with the 

>wers of Shakespeare, and who desires to feel the 
dghest pleasure that the drama can give, read every 
play from the first scene to the last, with utter negli- 
gence of all his commentators. When his fancy is 
once on the wing, let it not stoop at correction or 
explanation. When his attention is strongly engaged, 
let it disdain alike to turn aside to the name of Theobald 
and of Pope. Let him read on through brightness and 
obscurity, through integrity and corruption ; let him 


preserve his comprehension of the dialogue and his 
interest in the fable. And when the pleasures of 
novelty have ceased, let him attempt exactness, and 
read the commentators. 

Particular passages are cleared by notes, but the 
general effect of the work is weakened. The mind 
is refrigerated by interruption ; the thoughts are 
diverted from the principal subject ; the reader is 
weary, he suspects not why ; and at last throws away 
the book, which he has too diligently studied. 

Parts are not to be examined till the whole has been 
surveyed ; there is a kind of intellectual remoteness 
necessary for the comprehension of any great work in 
its full design and its true proportions ; a close 
approach shews the smaller niceties, but the beauty of 
the whole is discerned no longer. 

It is not very grateful to consider how little the 
succession of editors has added to this authour's power 
of pleasing. He was read, admired, studied, and 
imitated, while he was yet deformed with all the 
improprieties which ignorance and neglect could accu- 
mulate upon him ; while the reading was yet not 
rectified, nor his allusions understood ; yet then did 
Dryden pronounce " that Shakespeare was the man, 
who, of all modern and perhaps ancient poets, had 
the largest and most comprehensive soul. All the 
images of nature were still present to him, and he 
drew them not laboriously, but luckily : When he 
describes any thing, you more than see it, you feel it 
too. Those who accuse him to have wanted learning, 
give him the greater commendation : he was naturally 
learned : he needed not the spectacles of books to 
read nature ; he looked inwards, and found her there. 
I cannot say he is every where alike ; were he so, 
I should do him injury to compare him with the 
greatest of mankind. He is many times flat and 


insipid ; his comick wit degenerating into clenches, 
his serious swelling into bombast. But he is always 
great, when some great occasion is presented to him : 
No man can say, he ever had a fit subject for his wit, 
and did not then raise himself as high above the rest 
of poets, 

*' Quantum lenta solent inter viburna cupressi." 

It is to be lamented, that such a writer should want 
a commentary ; that his language should become 
obsolete, or his sentiments obscure. But it is vain 
to carry wishes beyond the condition of human things ; 
that which must happen to all, has happened to 
Shakespeare, by accident and time ; and more than 
has been suffered by any other writer since the use of 
types, has been suffered by him through his own 
negligence of fame, or perhaps by that superiority of 
mind, which despised its own performances, when it 
compared them with its powers, and judged those 
works unworthy to be preserved, which the criticks of 
following ages were to contend for the fame of restoring 
and explaining. 

Among these candidates of inferiour fame, I am now 
to stand the judgment of the publick ; and wish that 
I could confidently produce my commentary as equal 
to the encouragement which I have had the honour 
of receiving. Every work of this kind is by its nature 
deficient, and I should feel little solicitude about the 
sentence, were it to be pronounced only by the skilful 
and the learned. 



THESE two first Plays, the Tempest and the Midsummer-night's 
Dream, are the noblest Efforts of that sublime and amazing 
Imagination, peculiar to Shakespeare, which soars above the 
Bounds of Nature without forsaking Sense : or, more properly, 
carries Nature along with him beyond her established Limits. 
Fletcher seems particularly to have admired these two Plays, 
and hath wrote two in Imitation of them, the Sea-Voyage and 
the Faithful Shepherdess. But when he presumes to break 
a Lance with Shakespeare, and write in emulation of him, as he 
does in the False one, which is the Rival of Anthony and Cleopatra, 
he is not so successful. After him, Sir John Suckling and Milton 
catched the brightest Fire of their Imagination from these two 
Plays ; which shines fantastically indeed, in the Goblins, but 
much more nobly and serenely in The Mask at Ludlow-Castle. 


It may be observed of Gonzalo, that, being the only 
good Man that appears with the King, he is the only 
Man that preserves his Cheerfulness in the Wreck, and 
his Hope on the Island. 

ACT I. SCENE iii. (I. ii.) 

That the Character and Conduct of Prosper o may 
be understood, something must be known of the 
System of Enchantment, which supplied all the 
Marvellous found in the Romances of the middle 
Ages. This system seems to be founded on the 
Opinion that the fallen Spirits, having different Degrees 
of Guilt, had different Habitations alloted them at 
their Expulsion, some being confined in Hell, some, as 


Hooker, who delivers the Opinion of our Poet's Age, 
expresses it, dispersed in Air, some on Earth, some in 
Water, others in Caves, Dens or Minerals under the 
Earth. Of these some were more malignant and 
mischievous than others. The earthy Spirits seem to 
have been thought the most depraved, and the aerial 
the least vitiated. Thus Prospero observes of Ariel, 

Thou wast a Spirit too delicate 

To act her earthy and abhorred Commands. 

Over these Spirits a Power might be obtained by cer- 
tain Rites performed or Charms learned. This Power 
was called the Black Art, or Knowledge of Enchantment. 
The Enchanter being, as King James observes in 
his Demonology, one who commands the Devil, whereas 
the Witch serves him. Those who thought best of 
this Art, the Existence of which was, I am afraid, 
believed very seriously, held that certain Sounds and 
Characters had a physical Power over Spirits, and 
compelled their Agency ; others who condemned the 
Practice, which in reality was surely never practised, 
were of Opinion, with more Reason, that the Power 
of Charms arose only from compact, and was no more 
than the Spirits voluntary allowed them for the Seduc- 
tion of Man. The Art was held by all, though not 
equally criminal yet unlawful, and therefore Causabon, 
speaking of one who had Commerce with Spirits, 
blames him, though he imagines him one of the best 
Kind who dealt with them by Way of Command. Thus 
Prospero repents of his Art in the last Scene. The 
Spirits were always considered as in some Measure 
enslaved to the Enchanter, at least for a Time, and as 
serving with Unwillingness, therefore Ariel so often 
begs for Liberty ; and Caliban observes that the Spirits 
serve Prospero with no good Will, but hate him rootedly. 
Of these Trifles enough. 




It was a tradition, it seems, that Lord Falkland, Lord C. J. 
Vaughan, and Mr. Seldon concurred in observing, that Shakespear 
had not only found out a new character in his Caliban, but had 
also devised and adapted a new manner of language for that 
character. WARBURTON. 

Whence these criticks derived the notion of a new 
language appropriated to Caliban I cannot find : 
They certainly mistook brutality of sentiment for 
uncouthness of words. Caliban had learned to speak 
of Prospero and his daughter, he had no names for 
the sun and moon before their arrival, and could not 
have invented a language of his own without more 
understanding than Shakespear has thought it proper 
to bestow upon him. His diction is indeed somewhat 
clouded by the gloominess of his temper and the 
malignity of his purposes ; but let any other being 
entertain the same thoughts and he will find them 
easily issue in the same expressions. 

ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 375, 394.) 

On Ariel's songs : Come unto these yellow sands, 
and Full fathom five thy father lies. 

I know not whether Dr. Warburton has very success- 
fully defended these Songs from Gildon's accusation. 
Ariel's lays, however seasonable and efficacious, must 
be allowed to be of no supernatural dignity or elegance, 
they express nothing great, nor reveal any thing above 
mortal discovery. 

The reason for which Ariel is introduced thus 
trifling is, that he and his companions are evidently 
of the fairy kind, an order of Beings to which tra- 
dition has always ascribed a sort of diminutive 
agency, powerful but ludicrous, a humorous and frolick 
controlment of nature, well expressed by the Songs 
of Ariel. 

6 7 


IN this Scene Shakespeare takes advantage of his 
knowledge of the theatre, to ridicule the prejudices 
and competitions of the Players. Bottom, who is 
generally acknowledged the principal Actor, declares 
his inclination to be for a tyrant, for a part of fury, 
tumult, and noise, such as every young man pants to 
perform when he first steps upon the Stage. The 
same Bottom, who seems bred in a tiring-room, has 
another histrionical passion. He is for engrossing 
every part, and would exclude his inferiors from all 
possibility of distinction. He is therefore desirous 
to play Pyramus, Tbisbe and the Lyon at the same 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 50-3). 

FLUTE. Nay, faith, let me not play a woman ; 1 have a beard 

QUINCE. That's all one ; you shall play it in a masque. 

This passage shews how the want of women on the 
old Stage was supplied. If they had not a young 
man who could perform the part with a face that 
might pass for feminine, the character was acted in 
a mask, which was at that time a part of a Lady's dress 
so much in use that it did not give any unusual appear- 
ance to the Scene ; and he that could modulate his 
voice in a female tone might play the woman very 
successfully. It is observed in Downes^s Memoirs of the 
Playhouse, that one of these counterfeit heroines moved 
the passions more strongly than the women that have 
since been brought upon the stage. Some of the 
catastrophes of the old comedies, which make Lovers 
marry the wrong women, are, by recollection of the 
common use of masks, brought nearer to probability. 

F 2 


ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 96-9.) 

BOTTOM. / will discharge it in either your straw-colour' d beard, 
your orange-tawny beard, your purple-in-grain beard, or your 
French crown-colour' d beard ; your perfect yellow. 

Here Bottom again discovers a true genius for the 
Stage by his solicitude for propriety of dress, and his 
deliberation which beard to chuse among many beards, 
all unnatural. 

ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 42-57.) Puck. 

A like account of Puck is given by Drayton, 
He meeteth Puck, which most men call 

Hobgoblin, and on him doth fall. 

This Puck seems but a dreaming dolt, 
Still walking like a ragged colt, 
And oft out of a bush doth bolt, 

Of purpose to deceive us ; 
And leading us makes us to stray, 
Long winter's nights out of the way, 
And when we stick in mire and clay, 

He doth with laughter leave us. 

It will be apparent to him that shall compare Dray- 
torfs Poem with this play, that either one of the poets 
copied the other, or, as I rather believe, that there was 
then some system of the fairy empire generally received, 
which they both represented as accurately as they could. 
Whether Drayton or Shakespeare wrote first, I cannot 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 82-1 14.) 

And never since the middle Summer's spring, &c. 
There are not many passages in Sbakespear which 
one can be certain he has borrowed from the Ancients ; 
but this is one of the few that, I think, will admit of 
no dispute. Our Author's admirable description of 
the miseries of the Country being plainly an imitation 


of that which Ovid draws, as consequent on the grief 

of Ceres, for the loss of her daughter. 

Nescit adhuc ubi sit : terras tamen increpat omnes : 
Ingratasque vocat, nee frugum munere dignas. 

Ergo illic sceva vertentia glebas 

Fregit aratra manu parilique irata colonos 
Ruricolasque boves letho dedit : arvaque jussit 
Fallere depositum vitiataque semina fecit. 
Fertilitas terra latum vulgata per orbem 
Spars a jacet. Primis segetes moriuntur in herbis. 
Et modo sol nimius, nimius modo corripit imber : 
Sideraque ventique nocent. 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 101.) 

The human mortals want their winter here. 
After all the endeavours of the Editors this passage 
still remains to me unintelligible. I cannot see why 
Winter is, in the general confusion of the year now 
described, more wanted than any other season. Dr. 
Warburton observes that he alludes to our practice of 
singing carols in December ; but though Shakespear is 
no great chronologer in his dramas, I think he has 
never so mingled true and false religion, as to give us 
reason for believing that he would make the moon 
incensed for the omission of our carols. I therefore 
imagine him to have meant heathen rites of adoration. 
This is not all the difficulty. Titanic? s account of this 
calamity is not sufficiently consequential. Men find no 
winter, therefore they sing no hymns, the moon pro- 
voked by this omission alters the seasons. That is, 
the alteration of the seasons produces the alteration of 
the seasons. I am far from supposing that Shakespear 
might not sometimes think confusedly, and therefore am 
not sure that the passage is corrupted. If we should 

And human mortals want their wonted year, 


Yet will not this licence of alteration much mend the 
narrative ; the cause and the effect are still confounded. 
Let us carry critical temerity a little further. Scaliger 
transposed the lines of VirgiVs Gallus. Why may not 
the same experiment be ventured upon Shakespear. 
The human mortals want their wonted year, 
The seasons alter ; hoary-headed frosts 
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose ; 
And on old Hyems' chin, and icy crown. 
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds 
Is, as in mock'ry, set. The spring, the summer, 
The childing autumn, angry winter, change 
Their wonted liveries ; and the 'mazed world, 
By their increase, now knows not which is which. 
No night is now with hymn or carol blest; 
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods, 
Pale in her anger, washes all the air; 
And thorough this distemperature, we see 
That rheumatick diseases do abound. 
And this same progeny of evil comes 
From our debate, from our dissension. 

I know not what credit the reader will give to this 
emendation, which I do not much credit myself. 


In the time of Shakespear there were many com- 
panies of players, sometimes five at the same time, 
contending for the favour of the publick. Of these 
some were undoubtedly very unskilful and very poor, 
and it is probable that the design of this Scene was to 
ridicule their ignorance, and the odd expedients to 
which they might be driven by the want of proper 
decorations. Bottom was perhaps the head of a rival 
house, and is therefore honoured with an Ass's 


ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 177.) 

the fiery glow-worm's eyes. 

I know not how Shakespeare, who commonly derived 
his knowledge of nature from his own observation, 
happened to place the glow-worm's light in his eyes, 
which is only in his tail. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv, i. 48-9.) 

So doth the woodbine the sweet honey-suckle^ 
Gently entwist. 

Shakespeare perhaps only meant, so the leaves 
involve the flower, using woodbine for the plant and 
honey-suckle for the flower ; or perhaps Shakespeare 
made a blunder. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 1 10.) 

Our observation is performed. 

The honours due to the morning of May. I know 
not why Shakespear calls this play a Midsummer-Night's 
Dream 9 when he so carefully informs us that it hap- 
pened on the night preceding May day. 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 31-2.) 

OBERON. Now until the break of day, 

Through this house each Fairy stray. 

This speech, which both the old quartos give to 
Oberon, is in the Edition of 1623, and in all the follow- 
ing, printed as the song. I have restored it to Oberon, 
as it apparently contains not the blessing which he 
intends to bestow on the bed, but his declaration that 
he will bless it, and his orders to the Fairies how to 
perform the necessary rites. But where then is the 
song? I am afraid it is gone after many other things 
of greater value. The truth is that two songs are lost. 
The series of the Scene is this ; after the speech of 
Puck, Oberon enters, and calls his Fairies to a song, 


which song is apparently wanting in all the copies. 
Next Titania leads another song which is indeed lost 
like the former, though the Editors have endeavoured 
to find it. Then Oberon dismisses his Fairies to the 
despatch of the ceremonies. 

The songs, I suppose, were lost, because they were 
not inserted in the players' parts, from which the 
drama was printed. 

Of this play there are two editions in quarto, one 
printed for Thomas Fisher, the other for James Roberts, 
both in 1600. I have used the copy of Roberts, very 
carefully collated, as it seems, with that of Fisher. 
Neither of the editions approach to exactness. Fisher 
is sometimes preferable, but Roberts was followed, 
though not without some variations, by Hemings and 
Condel, and they by all the folios that succeeded them. 

Wild and fantastical as it is, all the parts in their 
various modes are well written, and give the kind of 
pleasure which the authour designed. Fairies in his 
time were much in fashion ; common tradition had 
made them familiar, and Spenser's poem had made 
them great. 


It is observable (I know not for what cause) that the stile of 
this comedy is less figurative, and more natural and unaffected 
than the greater part of this author's, tho' supposed to be one 
of the first he wrote. POPE. 

To this observation of Mr. Pope, which is very just, 
Mr. Theobald has added, that this is one of Shake- 
spear's worst plays, and is less corrupted than any other. 
Mr. Upton peremptorily determines, that if any proof 
can be drawn from manner and style, this play must be 
sent packing and seek for its parent elsewhere. How 


otherwise, says he, do painters distinguish copies from 
originals, and have not authours their peculiar style and 
manner from which a true critick can form as unerring 
a judgment as a Painter? I am afraid this illustration 
of a critick's science will not prove what is desired. 
A Painter knows a copy from an original by rules 
somewhat resembling these by which criticks know 
a translation, which if it be literal, and literal it must 
be to resemble the copy of a picture, will be easily 
distinguished. Copies are known from originals even 
when the painter copies his own picture ; so if an 
authour should literally translate his work he would 
lose the manner of an original. 

Mr. Upton confounds the copy of a picture with the 
imitation of a painter's manner. Copies are easily 
known, but good imitations are not detected with 
equal certainty, and are, by the best judges, often 
mistaken. Nor is it true that the writer has always 
peculiarities equally distinguishable with those of the 
painter. The peculiar manner of each arises from the 
desire, natural to every performer, of facilitating his 
subsequent works by recurrence to his former ideas ; 
this recurrence produces that repetition which is called 
habit. The painter, whose work is partly intellectual 
and partly manual, has habits of the mind, the eye and 
the hand, the writer has only habits of the mind. Yet, 
some painters have differed as much from themselves 
as from any other ; and I have been told, that there is 
little resemblance between the first works of Raphael 
and the last. The same variation may be expected in 
writers ; and if it be true, as it seems, that they are 
less subject to habit, the difference between their 
works may be yet greater. 

But by the internal marks of a composition we may 
discover the authour with probability, though seldom 
with certainty. When I read this play I cannot but 


think that I discover both in the serious and ludicrous 
scenes, the language and sentiments of Sbakespear. It 
is not indeed one of his most powerful effusions, it has 
neither many diversities of character, nor striking 
delineations of life, but it abounds in yvw/uuu beyond 
most of his plays, and few have more lines or passages 
which, singly considered, are eminently beautiful. 
I am yet inclined to believe that it was not very suc- 
cessful, and suspect that it has escaped corruption, only 
because being seldom played it was less exposed to 
the hazards of transcription. 


That this, like many other Scenes, is mean and 
vulgar, will be universally allowed ; but that it was 
interpolated by the players seems advanced without 
any proof, only to give a greater licence to criticism. 

ACT II. SCENE vii. (n. iv. 137-9.) 

Love's a mighty lord : 
And bath so bumbled me as, I confess. 
There is no woe to his correction. 

No misery that can be compared to the punishment 
inflicted by love. Herbert called for the prayers of the 
Liturgy a little before his death, saying, None to them, 
none to them. 

In this play there is a strange mixture of knowledge 
and ignorance, of care and negligence. The versifica- 
tion is often excellent, the allusions are learned and 
just ; but the author conveys his heroes by sea from 
one inland town to another in the same country ; he 
places the Emperour at Milan and sends his young 
men to attend him, but never mentions him more ; he 
makes Protheus, after an interview with Silvia, say he 
has only seen her picture, and, if we may credit the 
old copies, he has by mistaking places, left his scenery 


inextricable. The reason of all this confusion seems 
to be, that he took his story from a novel which he 
sometimes followed, and sometimes forsook, sometimes 
remembred, and sometimes forgot. 


There is perhaps not one of Shakespear's plays more 
darkened than this by the peculiarities of its Authour, 
and the unskilfulness of its Editors, by distortions of 
phrase, or negligence of transcription. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 7-9.) 

Then no more remains; 

But that to your sufficiency, as your worth is able, 
And let them work. 

This is a passage which has exercised the sagacity 
of the Editors, and is now to employ mine. 

Sir Tho. Hanmer having caught from Mr. Theobald 
a hint that a line was lost, endeavours to supply it thus. 

Then no more remains, 

But that to your sufficiency you join 

A will to serve us, as your worth is able. 

He has by this bold conjecture undoubtedly obtained 
a meaning, but, perhaps not, even in his own opinion, 
the meaning of Shakespear. 

That the passage is more or less corrupt, I believe 
every reader will agree with the Editors. I am not 
convinced that a line is lost, as Mr. Theobald conjec- 
tures, nor that the change of but to put, which Dr. War- 
burton has admitted after some other Editor, will 
amend the fault. There was probably some original 
obscurity in the expression, which gave occasion to 
mistake in repetition or transcription. I therefore 
suspect that the Authour wrote thus, 


Then no more remains, 

But that to your sufficiencies your worth is abled, 

And let them work. 

Then nothing remains more than to tell you that your 
Virtue is now invested with 'power equal to your knowledge 
and wisdom. Let therefore your knowledge and your 
virtue now work together. It may easily be conceived 
how sufficiencies was, by an inarticulate speaker, or 
inattentive hearer, confounded with sufficiency as, and 
how abled, a word very unusual, was changed into able. 
For abled, however, an authority is not wanting. Lear 
uses it in the same sense, or nearly the same, with 
the Duke. As for sufficiencies, D. Hamilton, in his 
dying speech, prays that Charles II. may exceed both 
the virtues and sufficiencies of bis father. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 51.) 

We have with a leaven' d and prepared choice. 
Leaverid has no sense in this place : we should read LEVEL'D 
choice. The allusion is to archery, when a man has fixed upon 
his object, after taking good aim. WARBURTON. 

No emendation is necessary. Leavened choice is one 
of Shakespear's harsh metaphors. His train of ideas 
seems to be this. / have proceeded to you with choice 
mature, concocted, fermented, leavened. When Bread 
is leavened, it is left to ferment : a leavened choice is 
therefore a choice not hasty, but considerate, not 
declared as soon as it fell into the imagination, but 
suffered to work long in the mind. Thus explained 
it suits better with prepared than levelled. 

ACT II. SCENE ix. (n. iii. 11-12.) 

Who falling in the flaws of her own youth, 

Hath blister' d her report. 

Who does not see that the integrity of the metaphor requires 
we should read FLAMES of her own youth. WARBURTON. 

.Who does not see that upon such principles there 
is no end of correction, 


ACT III. SCENE i. (111.1.13-15.) 

Thou art not noble : 

For all tV accommodations, that tbou bear'st, 
Are nursed by baseness. 

Dr. Warburton is undoubtedly mistaken in supposing 
that by baseness is meant self-love here assigned as the 
motive of all human actions. Shake spear meant only 
to observe, that a minute analysis of life at once 
destroys that splendour which dazzles the imagination. 
Whatever grandeur can display, or luxury enjoy, is 
procured by baseness, by offices of which the mind 
shrinks from the contemplation. All the delicacies of 
the table may be traced back to the shambles and the 
dunghill, all magnificence of building was hewn from 
the quarry, and all the pomp of ornaments, dug from 
among the damps and darkness of the mine. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 16-17.) 

The soft and tender fork 
Of a poor worm. 

Worm is put for any creeping thing or serpent. 
Shakespear supposes falsely, but according to the 
vulgar notion, that a serpent wounds with his tongue, 
and that his tongue is forked. He confounds reality 
and fiction, a serpent's tongue is soft but not forked 
nor hurtful. If it could hurt, it could not be soft. 
In Midsummer-Night's Dream he has the same notion. 

With doubler tongue 

Than thine, O serpent, never adder stung. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 17-19.) 

Thy best of rest is sleep, 
And that thou oft provok'st; yet grosly jear'st 
Thy death which is no more. 

Evidently from the following passage of Cicero ; Habes somnum 
imaginem Mortis, eamque quottdie induis, & dubitas quin sensus in 
morte nullus sit, cum in ejus simulacra videas esse nullum sensum. 
But the Epicurean insinuation is, with great judgment, omitted 
in the imitation. WARBURTON. 


Here Dr. Warburton might have found a sentiment 
worthy of his animadversion. I cannot without indig- 
nation find Sbakespear saying, that death is only sleep, 
lengthening out his exhortation by a sentence which 
in the Friar is impious, in the reasoner is foolish, and 
in the poet trite and vulgar. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 32-4.) 

Thou hast nor youth, nor age : 
But as it were an after dinner's sleep, 
Dreaming on both. 

This is exquisitely imagined. When we are young 
we busy ourselves in forming schemes for succeeding 
time, and miss the gratifications that are before us ; 
when we are old we amuse the languour of age with 
the recollection of youthful pleasures or performances ; 
so that our life, of which no part is filled with the 
business of the present time, resembles our dreams 
after dinner, when the events of the morning are 
mingled with the designs of the evening. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 36-8.) 

When tbou'rt old and rich, 
Thou hast neither heat, affection, limb, nor beauty 
To make thy riches pleasant. 

But how does beauty make riches pleasant f We should read 
BOUNTY, which compleats the sense, and is this ; Thou hast 
neither the pleasure of enjoying riches thy self, for thou wantest 
vigour : nor of seeing it enjoyed by others, for thou wantest 
bounty. Where the making the want of bounty as inseparable 
from old age as the want of health, is extremely satirical tho* not 
altogether just. WARBURTON. 

I am inclined to believe that neither man nor woman 
will have much difficulty to tell how beauty makes 
riches pleasant. Surely this emendation, though it is 
elegant and ingenious, is not such as that an oppor- 
tunity of inserting it should be purchased by declaring 


ignorance of what every one knows, by confessing 
insensibility of what every one feels. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 137-8.) 

7s'/ not a kind of incest, to take life 
From thine own sister's shame ? 

In Isabella's declamation there is something harsh, 
and something forced and far-fetched. But her 
indignation cannot be thought violent when we con- 
sider her not only as a virgin but as a nun. 

ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 4-5.) 

First here's young Mr. Rash, &c. 

This enumeration of the inhabitants of the prison 
affords a very striking view of the practices predominant 
in Sbakespear's age. Besides those whose follies are 
common to all times, we have four fighting men and 
a traveller. It is not unlikely that the originals of 
these pictures were then known. 

ACT IV. SCENE xiii. (iv. v. i.) 

DUKE. These letters at fit time deliver me. / 

Peter never delivers the letters, but tells his story 
without any credentials. The poet forgot the plot 
which he had formed. 

AcrV. SCENE vii. (v. i. 448.) 

'Till, be did look on me. 

The Duke has justly observed that Isabel is impor- 
tuned against all sense to solicit for Angelo, yet here 
against all sense she solicits for him. Her argument 
is extraordinary. 

A due sincerity governed his deeds, 
9 Till he did look on me ; since it is so, 
Let him not die. 

That Angela had committed all the crimes charged 
against him, as far as he could commit them, is evident. 


The only intent which his act did not overtake, was the 
defilement of Isabel. Of this Angela was only inten- 
tionally guilty. 

Angela's crimes were such, as must sufficiently justify 
punishment, whether its end be to secure the inno- 
cent from wrong, or to deter guilt by example ; and 
I believe every reader feels some indignation when he 
finds him spared. From what extenuation of his crime 
can Isabel, who yet supposes her brother dead, form any 
plea in his favour. Since he was good 'till he looked 
on me, let him not die. I am afraid our Varlet Poet 
intended to inculcate, that women think ill of nothing 
that raises the credit of their beauty, and are ready, 
however virtuous, to pardon any act which they think 
incited by their own charms. 

ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. i. 479 foil.) 

It is somewhat strange, that Isabel is not made to 
express either gratitude, wonder or joy at the sight 
of her brother. 

After the pardon of two murderers Lucio might be 
treated by the good Duke with less harshness ; but 
perhaps the Poet intended to show, what is too often 
seen, that men easily forgive wrongs which are not com- 
mitted against themselves. 

The novel of Cynthio Giraldi, from which Shake- 
spear is supposed to have borrowed this fable, may be 
read in Shakespear illustrated, elegantly translated, with 
remarks which will assist the enquirer to discover how 
much absurdity Shakespear has admitted or avoided. 

I cannot but suspect that some other had new 
modelled the novel of Cynthio, or written a story which 
in some particulars resembled it, and that Cinthio was 
not the authour whom Shakespear immediately fol- 
lowed. The Emperour in Cinthio is named Maximine, 


the Duke, in Shakespear's enumeration of the persons 
of the drama, is called Fincentio. This appears a very 
slight remark ; but since the Duke has no name in the 
play, nor is ever mentioned but by his title, why 
should he be called Fincentio among the Persons, but 
because the name was copied from the story, and 
placed superfluously at the head of the list by the mere 
habit of transcription ? It is therefore likely that there 
was then a story of Fincentio Duke of Vienna, different 
from that of Maximine Emperour of the Romans. 

Of this play the light or comick part is very natural 
and pleasing, but the grave scenes, if a few passages 
be excepted, have more labour than elegance. The 
plot is rather intricate than artful. The time of the 
action is indefinite ; some time, we know not how 
much, must have elapsed between the recess of the 
Duke and the imprisonment of Claudio ; for he must 
have learned the story of Mariana in his disguise, or 
he delegated his power to a man already known to be 
corrupted. The unities of action and place are suffi- 
ciently preserved. 


ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 48.) 

There is the Count Palatine. 

I am always inclined to believe, that Shakespear has 
more allusions to particular facts and persons than his 
readers commonly suppose. The Count here men- 
tioned was, perhaps, Albertus a Lasco, a Polish Palatine, 
who visited England in our Authour's time, was eagerly 
caressed, and splendidly entertained, but running in 
debt, at last stole away, and endeavoured to repair 
his fortune by enchantment. 



ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. vii. 78.) 

PORTIA. A gentle riddance draw the curtains ; go 
Let all of his complexion cbuse me so. 

The old quarto Edition of 1600 has no distribution 
of acts, but proceeds from the beginning to the end in 
an unbroken tenour. This play therefore having been 
probably divided without authority by the publishers 
of the first folio, lies open to a new regulation if any 
more commodious division can be proposed. The 
story is itself so wildly incredible, and the changes of 
the scene so frequent and capricious, that the proba- 
bility of action does not deserve much care ; yet it 
may be proper to observe, that, by concluding the 
second act here, time is given for Bassanio's passage 
to Belmont. 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 32-3. 

LORENZO. Who comes with her f 

MESSENGER. None, but a holy hermit, and her maid. 

I do not perceive the use of this hermit, of- whom 
nothing is seen or heard afterwards. The Poet had 
first planned his fable some other way, and inadver- 
tently, when he changed his scheme, retained some- 
thing of the original design. 

Of The MERCHANT of VENICE the stile is even and 
easy, with few peculiarities of diction, or anomalies of 
construction. The comick part raises laughter, and 
the serious fixes expectation. The probability of 
either one or the other story cannot be maintained. 
The union of two actions in one event is in this drama 
eminently happy. Dryden was much pleased with his 
own address in connecting the two plots of his 
Spanish Friar, which yet, I believe, the critick will find 
excelled by this play. 


ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 12-14.) 

Sweet are the uses of Adversity, 

Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, 

Wears yet a precious jewel in his head. 

It was the current opinion in Shakespeare's time, 
that in the head of an old toad was to be found a stone, 
or pearl, to which great virtues were ascribed. This 
stone has been often sought, but nothing has been 
found more than accidental or perhaps morbid indura- 
tions of the skull. 

ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. vii. 94-6.) 

The thorny point 

Of sharp distress has ta'en from me the shew 
Of smooth civility. 

We might read torn with more elegance, but elegance 
alone will not justify alteration. 

ACT II. SCENE x. (n. vii. 167.) 

Set down your venerable burthen. 

Is it not likely that Shakespear had in his mind this 
line of the Metamorphoses ? 


Pert humerus, venerabile onus Cythereius heros. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. ii. 2.) 

Thrice crowned Queen of Night. 

Alluding to the triple character of Proserpine, 
Cynthia, and Diana, given by some Mythologists to 
the same Goddess, and comprised in these memorial 
lines : 

ferret, lustrat, agit, Proserpina, Luna, Diana, 
I ma, superna, feras, sceptro, fulgore, sagittis. 
G 2 


ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 136-7.) 

Tongues I'll bang on every tree, 
That shall civil sayings show. 

Civil is here used in the same sense as when we say 
civil wisdom or civil life, in opposition to a solitary 
state, or to the state of nature. This desart shall 
not appear unpeopled, for every tree shall teach the 
maxims or incidents of social life. 

ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 150-2.) 

Therefore heaven nature chargd, 
That one body should be fiWd 
With all graces wide enlarged. 

From the picture of Apelles, or the accomplish- 
ments of Pandora. 

on Trdvrei 

So before, 

- But thou 

So perfect, and so peerless art counted 

Of ev'ry creature's lest. Tempest. 

Perhaps from this passage Swift had his hint of 
Biddy Floyd. 

ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 156.) 

Atalanta's better part. 

I know not well what could be the better part of 
Atalanta here ascribed to Rosalind. Of the Atalanta 
most celebrated, and who therefore must be intended 
here where she has no epithet of discrimination, the 
better part seems to have been her heels, and the worse 
part was so bad that Rosalind would not thank her 
lover for the comparison. There is a more obscure 
Atalanta, a Huntress and a Heroine, but of her nothing 
bad is recorded, and therefore I know not which was 


the better part. Shakespeare was no despicable Mytho- 
logist, yet he seems here to have mistaken some other 
character for that of Atalanta. 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (m. ii. 187-8.) 

/ was never so be-rbymed since Pythagoras time, that 1 was an 
Irish rat. 

Rosalind is a very learned Lady. She alludes to 
the Pythagorean doctrine which teaches that souls 
transmigrate from one animal to another, and relates 
that in his time she was an Irish rat, and by some 
metrical charm was rhymed to death. The power of 
killing rats with rhymes Donne mentions in his satires, 
and Temple in his treatises. Dr. Gray has produced 
a similar passage from Randolph 

My Poets 

Shall with a say tire steeped in vinegar 

Rhyme them to death y as they do rats in Ireland. 

ACT III. SCENE x. (in. iv.) 

There is much of nature in this petty perverseness 
of Rosalind ; she finds faults in her lover, in hope to 
be contradicted, and when Celia in sportive malice 
too readily seconds her accusations, she contradicts 
herself, rather than suffer her favourite to want a vindi- 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 39-40.) 

/ will scarce think you have swam in a Gondola. 

That is, been at Venice, the seat at that time of all 
licentiousness, where the young English gentlemen 
wasted their fortunes, debased their morals, and some- 
times lost their religion. 

The fashion of travelling which prevailed very much 
in our author's time, was considered by the wiser men 
as one of the principal causes of corrupt manners. It 


was therefore gravely censured by Ascham in his School- 
master, and by Bishop Hall in his Quo Fadis, and is 
here, and in other passages ridiculed by Shakespeare. 

Of this play the fable is wild and pleasing. I know 
not how the ladies will approve the facility with which 
both Rosalind and Celia give away their hearts. To 
Celia much may be forgiven for the heroism of her 
friendship. The character of Jaques is natural and 
well preserved. The comick dialogue is very sprightly, 
with less mixture of low buffoonery than in some other 
plays ; and the graver part is elegant and harmonious. 
By hastening to the end of his work Shakespeare sup- 
pressed the dialogue between the usurper and the 
hermit, and lost an opportunity of exhibiting a moral 
lesson in which he might have found matter worthy 
of his highest powers. 


The stile of the rhyming scenes in this play is often 
entangled and obscure. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 77.) 

Light, seeking light, doth light of light beguile. 

The whole sense of this gingling declamation is only 
this, that a man by too close study may read himself 
blind, which might have been told with less obscurity 
in fewer words. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 148.) 

Necessity will make us all forsworn. 

Biron amidst his extravagancies, speaks with great 
justness against the folly of vows. They are made 


without sufficient regard to the variations of life, and 
are therefore broken by some unforseen necessity. 
They proceed commonly from a presumptuous confi- 
dence, and a false estimate of human power. 

ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 5.) Dear imp. 

Imp was anciently a term of dignity. Lord Cromwel 
in his last letter to Henry VIII. prays for the imp his 
son. It is now used only in contempt or abhorrence ; 
perhaps in our authour's time it was ambiguous, in 
which state it suits well with this dialogue. 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 221.) 

My lips are no common, though several they be. 

Several is an inclosed field of a private proprietor, 
so Maria says, her lips are private property. Of a Lord 
that was newly married one observed that he grew fat ; 
yes, said Sir Walter Raleigh , any beast will grow fat, 
if you take him from the common and graze him in the 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii.) Holophernes. 

I am not of the learned commentator's opinion, 
that the satire of Shakespeare is so seldom personal. 
It is of the nature of personal invectives to be soon 
unintelligible ; and the authour that gratifies private 
malice, animam in volnere ponit, destroys the future 
efficacy of his own writings, and sacrifices the esteem 
of succeeding times to the laughter of a day. It is 
no wonder, therefore, that the sarcasms which, perhaps, 
in the authour's time set the playhouse in a roar, are 
now lost among general reflections. Yet whether the 
character of Holofernes was pointed at any particular 
man, I am, notwithstanding the plausibility of Dr. 
Warburton's conjecture, inclined to doubt. Every man 
adheres as long as he can to his own pre-conceptions. 


Before I read this note I considered the character of 
Holof ernes as borrowed from the Rhombus of Sir Philip 
Sidney, who, in a kind of pastoral entertainment 
exhibited to Queen Elizabeth, has introduced a school- 
master so called, speaking a leash of languages at once, 
and puzzling himself and his auditors with a jargon 
like that of Holofernes in the present play. Sidney 
himself might bring the character from Italy ; for as 
Peacham observes, the Schoolmaster has long been one 
of the ridiculous personages in the farces of that 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 2-6.) 

NATHANIEL. / praise God for you, Sir, your reasons at dinner 
have been sharp and sententious; pleasant without scurrility, witty 
without affectation, audacious without impudency, learned without 
opinion, and strange without heresy. 

I know not well what degree of respect Shakespeare 
intends to obtain for this vicar, but he has here put 
into his mouth a finished representation of colloquial 
excellence. It is very difficult to add any thing to this 
character of the schoolmaster's table-talk, and perhaps 
all the precepts of Castiglione will scarcely be found to 
comprehend a rule for conversation so justly delineated, 
so widely dilated, and so nicely limited. 

It may be proper just to note, that reason here, and 
in many other places, signifies discourse, and that 
audacious is used in a good sense for spirited, animated, 
confident. Opinion is the same with obstinacy or 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 69-72.) 

PRINCESS. None are so surely caught, when they are catch' d, 
As wit turn'd fool : folly, in wisdom hatch' d, 
Hath wisdom's warrant, and the help of school , 
And wifs own grace to grace a learned fool. 

These are observations worthy of a man who has 
surveyed human nature with the closest attention. 


ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 206.) 

Vouchsafe, bright moon, and these thy stars, to shine. 

When Queen Elizabeth asked an ambassadour how 
he liked her Ladies, It is hard, said he, to judge of stars 
in the 'presence of the sun. 

ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. ii. 374-9.) 

BIRON. Fair, gentle, sweet, 

Tour wit makes wise things foolish ; when we greet 

With eyes best seeing heaven's fiery eye, 

By light we lose light ; your capacity 

Is of that nature, as to your huge store 

Wise things seem foolish, and rich things but poor. 

This is a very lofty and elegant compliment. 

In this play, which all the editors have concurred to 
censure, and some have rejected as unworthy of our 
Poet, it must be confessed that there are many passages 
mean, childish, and vulgar ; and some which ought 
not to have been exhibited, as we are told they were, 
to a maiden queen. But there are scattered, through 
the whole, many sparks of genius ; nor is there any 
play that has more evident marks of the hand of 


ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 260-1.) 

Whereof the execution did cry out 
Against the non-performance. 

This is one of the expressions by which Shakespeare 
too frequently clouds his meaning. This sounding 
phrase means, I think, no more than a thing necessary 
to be done. 


ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. ii. 55-8.) 
/ ne'er heard yet, 

That any of those bolder vices wanted 
Less impudence to gainsay what they did, 
Than to perform it first. 

It is apparent that according to the proper, at least 
according to the present, use of words, less should be 
more, or wanted should be had. But Shakespeare is 
very uncertain in his use of negatives. It may be 
necessary once to observe, that in our language two 
negatives did not originally affirm, but strengthen the 
negation. This mode of speech was in time changed, 
but as the change was made in opposition to long 
custom, it proceeded gradually, and uniformity was 
not obtained but through an intermediate confusion. 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (uz. ii. 152-73.) 

This vehement retractation of Leontes, accompanied 
with the confession of more crimes than he was 
suspected of, is agreeable to our daily experience of 
the vicissitudes of violent tempers, and the eruptions 
of minds oppressed with guilt. 

ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. iii. 21-2.) 

How would he look, to see his work, so noble, 
Vilely bound up ! 

It is impossible for any man to rid his mind of his 
profession. The authourship of Shakespeare has sup- 
plied him with a metaphor, which rather than he would 
lose it, he has put with no great propriety into the 
mouth of a country maid. Thinking of his own works 
his mind passed naturally to the Binder. I am glad 
that he has no hint at an Editor. 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 43-4.) 

3 GENTLEMAN. Did you see the meeting of the two Kings f 

It was, I suppose, only to spare his own labour that 


the poet put this whole scene into narrative, for though 
part of the transaction was already known to the 
audience, and therefore could not properly be shewn 
again, yet the two kings might have met upon the 
stage, and after the examination of the old shepherd, 
the young Lady might have been recognized in sight 
of the spectators. 

Of this play no edition is known published before 
the folio of 1623. 

The story is taken from the novel of Dorastus and 
Faunia, which may be read in Shakespeare illustrated. 

This play, as Dr. Warburton justly observes, is, with 
all its absurdities, very entertaining. The character 
of Autolycus is very naturally conceived, and strongly 


ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 19, 21.) 

0, when my eyes did see Olivia first, 
That instant I was turn'd into a hart. 

This image evidently alludes to the story of Acteon, 
by which Shakespeare seems to think men cautioned 
against too great familiarity with forbidden beauty. 
Acteon, who saw Diana naked, and was torn in pieces 
by his hounds, represents a man, who indulging his 
eyes, or his imagination, with the view of a woman 
that he cannot gain, has his heart torn with incessant 
longing. An interpretation far more elegant and 
natural than that of Sir Francis Bacon, who, in his 
Wisdom of the Antients, supposes this story to warn us 
against enquiring into the secrets of princes, by show- 
ing, that those who knew that which for reasons of 
state is to be concealed, will be detected and destroyed 
by their own servants. 


ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 39.) 

0, that 1 sertfd that lady &c. 

Viola seems to have formed a very deep design with 
very little premeditation : she is thrown by shipwreck 
on an unknown coast, hears that the prince is a batche- 
lor, and resolves to supplant the lady whom he courts. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 53.) /'// serve this Duke. 

Viola is an excellent schemer, never at a loss ; if she 
cannot serve the lady, she will serve the Duke. 

ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. iii. 86.) Tilly valley. 

Tilly valley was an interjection of contempt, which 
Sir Thomas More's lady is recorded to have had very 
often in her mouth. 

ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. v. 66-8.) 

MALVOLIO. / frown the while, and, perchance, wind up my 
watch, or play with some rich jewel. 

In our authour's time watches were very uncommon. 
When Guy Faux was taken, it was urged as a circum- 
stance of suspicion that a watch was found upon him. 

ACT III. SCENE x. (in. iv. 185-7.) 

SIR TOBY. Fare thee well, and God have mercy upon one of our 
souls : he may have mercy upon mine, but my hope is better. 

We may read, He may have mercy upon thine, but 
my hope is better. Yet the passage may well enough 
stand without alteration. 

It were much to be wished, that Shakespeare in this 
and Some other passages, had not ventured so near 

ACT III. SCENE xii. (in. iv. 260-1.) 

He is Knight, dubVd with unhacttd rapier, and on carpet con- 

That is, he is no soldier by profession, not a Knight 


Banneret, dubbed in the field of battle, but, on carpet 
consideration, at a festivity, or on some peaceable occa- 
sion, when knights receive their dignity kneeling not 
on the ground, as in war, but on a carpet. This is, 
I believe, the original of the contemptuous term 
a carpet knight, who was naturally held in scorn by the 
men of war. 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 42.) Bells of St. Bennet. 

When in this play he mentioned the bed of Ware, he 
recollected that the scene was in Illyria, and added 
in England ; but his sense of the same impropriety 
could not restrain him from the bells of St. Bennet. 

This glay is in the graver part elegant and easy, and 
in some of the lighter scenes exquisitely humorous. 
Ague- cheek is drawn with great propriety, but his 
character is, in a great measure, that of natural fatuity, 
and is therefore not the proper prey of a satirist. The 
soliloquy of Malvolio is truly comick ; he is betrayed 
to ridicule merely by his pride. The marriage of 
Olivia, and the succeeding perplexity, though well 
enough contrived to divert on the stage, wants credi- 
bility, and fails to produce the proper instruction 
required in the drama, as it exhibits no just picture 
of life. 


ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. i. 147.) 

PAGE. / will not believe such a Cataian. 
To be a foreigner was always in England, and I sup- 
pose every where else, a reason of dislike. 

ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. ii. 94-5.) A very frampold life. 
This word I have never seen elsewhere except in 


Dr. Hackefs life of Archbishop Williams, where a 
frampul man signifies a peevish troublesome fellow. 

ACT III. SCENE xii. (in. iv. 13-14.) 

Thy father's wealth 
Was the first motive that I woo'd thee. 

Some light may be given to those who shall en- 
deavour to calculate the encrease of English wealth, 
by observing, that Latymer in the time of Edward VI. 
mentions it as a proof of his father's prosperity, That 
though but a yeoman, he gave his daughters five pounds 
each for her portion. At the latter end of Elizabeth, 
seven hundred pounds were such a temptation to 
courtship, as made all other motives suspected. Con- 
greve makes twelve thousand pounds more than 
a counterballance to the affectation of Belinda. No 
poet would now fly his favourite character at less than 
fifty thousand. 

ACT III. SCENE xvii. (in. v. 157-8.) /'// be born-mad. 

There is no image which our authour appears so 
fond of as that of a cuckold's horns. Scarcely a light 
character is introduced that does not endeavour to 
produce merriment by some allusion to horned hus- 
bands. As he wrote his plays for the stage rather than 
the press, he perhaps reviewed them seldom, and did 
not observe this repetition, or finding the jest, however 
frequent, still successful, did not think correction 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. ii. 208-9.) 

/ spy a great peard under her muffler. 

As the second stratagem, by which Falstaff escapes, 
is much the grosser of the two, I wish it had been 
practised first. It .is very unlikely that Ford having 
been so deceived before, and knowing that he had been 


deceived, would suffer him to escape in so slight a 

ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. iii. 12-13.) They must COME off 

To come off, signifies in our authour, sometimes to be 
uttered with spirit and volubility. In this place it 
seems to mean what is in our time expressed by to 
come down, to pay liberally and readily. These acci- 
dental and colloquial senses are the disgrace of language, 
and the plague of commentators. 

ACT IV. SCENE x. (iv. v. 130.) Good hearts. 

The great fault of this play is the frequency of 
expressions so profane, that no necessity of preserving 
character can justify them. There are laws of higher 
authority than those of criticism. 


ACT. I. SCENE iv. (i. i. 166.) 

Redime te captum quam queas minima. 

Our author had this line from Lilly, which I men- 
tion, that it may not be brought as an argument of 
his learning. 

ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. i. 331-2.) 

GREMIO. Youngling ! tbou canst not love so dear as 1. 
TRANIO. Grey-beard / thy love doth freeze. 
GREMIO. But thine doth fry. 

Old Gremioh notions are confirmed by Shadwell. 
The fire of love in youthful blood, 
Like what is kindled in brushwood, 

But for a moment burns 

But when crept into aged veins, 
It slowly burns, and long remains, 


It glows, and with a sullen heat, 
Like fire in logs, it burns, and warms us long ; 
And though the flame be not so great 
Yet is the heat as strong. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. ii. 54.) 

PETRUCHIO. A good swift Simile. 

Swift, besides the original sense of speedy in motion^ 
signified witty, quick-witted. So in As you like it, the 
Duke says of the clown, He is very swift and sententious. 
Quick is now used in almost the same sense, as nimble 
was in the age after that of our authour. Heylin says of 
Hales, that he had known Laud for a nimble disputant. 

From this play the Tatler formed a story, Vol. 4. 
N. 131. 

It cannot but seem strange that Shakespeare should 
be so little known to the authour of the Tatler, that 
he should suffer this Story to be obtruded upon him, 
or so little known to the Publick, that he could hope 
to make it pass upon his readers as a novel narrative 
of a transaction in Lincolnshire ; yet it is apparent, 
that he was deceived, or intended to deceive, that he 
knew not himself whence the story was taken, or 
hoped that he might rob so obscure a writer without 

Of this play the two plots are so well united, that 
they can hardly be called two without injury to the 
art with which they are interwoven. The attention 
is entertained with all the variety of a double plot, yet 
is not distracted by unconnected incidents. 

The part between Catharine and Petruchio is 
eminently spritely and diverting. At the marriage of 
Bianca the arrival of the real father, perhaps, produces 
more perplexity than pleasure. The whole play is 
very popular and diverting. 


ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. ii. 63-4.) 
ANTIPHOLIS OF SYRACUSE. My food, my fortune, and my sweet 

hope's aim, 
My sole earth's heaven, and my heaven's claim. 

When he calls the girl his only heaven on earth, he 
utters the common cant of lovers. When he calls her 
his heaven's claim, I cannot understand him. Perhaps 
he means that which he asks of heaven. 


ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 67.) Four of his five wits. 

In our authour's time wit was the general term for 
intellectual powers. So Davies on the Soul, 

Wit, seeking truth from cause to cause ascends, 

And never rests till it the first attain ; 
Will, seeking good, finds many middle ends, 

But never stays till it the last do gain. 
And in another part, 

But if a phrenzy do possess the brain, 
It so disturbs and blots the form of things, 

As fantasy proves altogether vain, 
And to the wit no true relation brings. 

Then doth the wit, admitting all for true, 
Build fond conclusions on those idle grounds ; 

The wits seem to have reckoned five, by analogy to 
the five senses, or the five inlets of ideas. 

ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iii. 14.) 

DON JOHN. / cannot hide what 1 am. 

This is one of our authour's natural touches. An 
envious and unsocial mind, too proud to give pleasure, 
and too sullen to receive it, always endeavours to hide 



its malignity from the world and from itself, under 
the plainness of simple honesty, or the dignity of 
haughty independence. 

ACT II. SCENE v. (11. i. 332-4.) 

Thus goes every one to the world but I, and 1 am sunburnt. 

What is it, to go to the world? perhaps, to enter by 
marriage into a settled state : but why is the unmarried 
Lady sunburnt ? I believe we should read, thus goes 
every one to the wood but I, and I am sunburnt. Thus 
does every one but I find a shelter, and I am left 
exposed to wind and sun. The nearest way to the 
wood, is a phrase for the readiest means to any end. 
It is said of a woman, who accepts a worse match than 
those which she had refused, that she has passed 
through the wood, and at last taken a crooked stick. 
But conjectural criticism has always something to 
abate its confidence. Shakespeare, in AIVs well that 
ends well, uses the phrase, to go to the world, for marriage. 
So that my emendation depends only on the opposition 
of wood to sun-burnt. 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. iii. 43-4.) 

DOGBERRY. Have a care that your Bills be not stolen. 

A bill is still carried by the watchmen at Lichfield. 
It was the old weapon of the English infantry, which, 
says Temple, gave the most ghastly and deplorable 
wounds. It may be called securis falcata. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. i. 251-2.) 

LEONATO. Being that I flow in grief, 

The smallest twine may lead me. 

This is one of our authour's observations upon life. 
Men over-powered with distress eagerly listen to the 
first offers of relief, close with every scheme, and 
believe every promise. He that has no longer any 


confidence in himself, is glad to repose his trust in 
any other that will undertake to guide him. 


ACT I. SCENE i. (1.1.49-52.) 

Where an unclean mind carries virtuous qualities, there com- 
mendations go with pity, they are virtues and traitors too ; in her 
they are the better for their simpleness. 

Estimable and useful qualities, joined with evil dis- 
position, give that evil disposition power over others, 
who, by admiring the virtue, are betrayed to the 
malevolence. The Tatler, mentioning the sharpers 
of his time, observes, that some of them are men of 
such elegance and knowledge, that a young man who 
jails into their way is betrayed as much by his judgment 
as his passions. 

ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 36-8.) 

So like a Courtier, no Contempt or Bitterness 
Were in his Pride or Sharpness ; or if they were, 
His Equal had awak'd them. 

He was so like a courtier, that there was in his dignity 
of manner nothing contemptuous, and in his keenness of 
wit nothing bitter. If bitterness or contemptuousness 
ever appeared, they had been awakened by some injury, 
not of a man below him, but of his Equal. This is the 
complete image of a well bred man, and somewhat 
like this Voltaire has exhibited his hero Lewis XIV. 

ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 41-5.) 

Who were below him 
He us'd as creatures of another place, 
And bow'd his eminent top to their low ranks ; 
Making them proud of his humility, 
In their poor praise he humbled. 

Every man has seen the mean too often proud of the 
humility of the great, and perhaps the great may some- 

H 2 


times be humbled in the praises of the mean, of those 
who commend them without conviction or discern- 
ment : this, however is not so common ; the mean 
are found more frequently than the great. 

ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iii. S.D.) Steward and Clown. 

A Clown in Shakespeare is commonly taken for 
a licensed jester, or domestick fool. We are not to 
wonder that we find this character often in his plays, 
since fools were, at that time, maintained in all great 
families, to keep up merriment in the house. In the 
picture of Sir Thomas Moore's family, by Hans Holbein, 
the only servant represented is Patison the fool. This 
is a proof of the familiarity to which they were ad- 
mitted, not by the great only, but the wise. 

In some plays, a servant, or rustic, of remarkable 
petulance and freedom of speech, is likewise called 
a Clown. 

ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iii. 98-101.) 

Tho' honesty be no puritan, yet it will do no hurt ; it will wear 
the surplice of humility over the black gown of a big heart. 

Here is an allusion, violently enough forced in, to 
satirise the obstinacy with which the Puritans refused 
the use of the ecclesiastical habits, which was, at that 
time, one principal cause of the breach of union, and, 
perhaps, to insinuate, that the modest purity of the 
surplice was sometimes a cover for pride. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 73-4.) 

DIANA. Since Frenchmen are so braid. 

Marry that will, I'll live and die a Maid. 

Nothing is more common than for girls, on such 
occasions, to say in a pett what they do not think, or 
to think for a time what they do not finally resolve. 


ACT IV. SCENE iii. (iv. iii. i.) First Lord. 

The later Editors have with great liberality bestowed 
lordship upon these interlocutors, who, in the original 
edition, are called, with more propriety, capt. E. and 
capt. G. It is true that captain E. is in a former scene 
called Lord E. but the subordination in which they 
seem to act, and the timorous manner in which they 
converse, determines them to be only captains. Yet 
as the later readers of Shakespeare have been used to 
find them lords, I have not thought it worth while 
to degrade them in the margin. 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. iii. 282.) 

He will steal, Sir, an egg out of a cloister, 

I know not that cloister, though it may etymologically 
signify any thing shut is used by our authour, otherwise 
than for a monastery, and therefore I cannot guess 
whence this hyberbole could take its original : perhaps 
it means only this : He will steal any thing, however 
trifling, from any place, however holy. 

ACT V. SCENE ii. (v. ii. 58-9.) 

Tbo' you are a fool and a knave, you shall eat. 

Parolles has many of the lineaments of Falstaff, and 
seems to be the character which Shakespeare delighted 
to draw, a fellow that had more wit than virtue. 
Though justice required that he should be detected 
and exposed, yet his vices sit so fit in him that he is 
not at last suffered to starve. 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iii. 20-2.) 

KING. Call him hither ; 

We're reconciled, and the first view shall kill 
All repetition. 

The first interview shall put an end to all recollection 


of the past. Shakespeare is now hastening to the end 
of the play, finds his matter sufficient to fill up his 
remaining scenes, and therefore, as on other such 
occasions, contracts his dialogue and precipitates his 
action. Decency required that Bertram's double 
crime of cruelty and disobedience joined likewise with 
some hypocrisy, should raise more resentment ; and 
that though his mother might easily forgive him, his 
king should more pertinaciously vindicate his own 
authority and Helen's merit : of all this Shakespeare 
could not be ignorant, but Shakespeare wanted to 
conclude his play. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 93.) 

BERTRAM. In Florence was it front a casement thrown me. 

Bertram still continues to have too little virtue to 
deserve Helen. He did not know indeed that it was 
Helen's ring, but he knew that he had it not from 
a window. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 101-2.) 
Plutus himself, 
'That knows the tinct and multiplying medicine. 

In the reign of Henry the fourth a law was made to 
forbid all men thenceforth to multiply gold, or use any 
craft of multiplication. Of which law Mr. Boyle, when 
he was warm with the hope of transmutation, procured 
a repeal. 

ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. iii. 271-309.) 

This dialogue [between the King and Diana] is too 
long, since the audience already knew the whole 
transaction ; nor is there any reason for puzzling the 
king and playing with his passions ; but it was much 
easier than to make a pathetical interview between 
Helen and her husband, her mother, and the king. 


This play has many delightful scenes, though not 
sufficiently probable, and some happy characters, 
though not new, nor produced by any deep knowledge 
of human nature. Parolles is a boaster and a coward, 
such as has always been the sport of the stage, but 
perhaps never raised more laughter or contempt than 
in the hands of Shakespeare. 

I cannot reconcile my heart to Bertram ; a man 
noble without generosity, and young without truth ; 
who marries Helen as a coward, and leaves her as a 
profligate : when she is dead by his unkindness, sneaks 
home to a second marriage, is accused by a woman 
whom he has wronged, defends himself by falshood, 
and is dismissed to happiness. 

The story of Bertram and Diana had been told before 
of Mariana and Angela, and, to confess the truth, 
scarcely merited to be heard a second time. 

The story is copied from a novel of Boccace, which 
may be read in Shakespear Illustrated, with remarks 
not more favourable to Bertram than my own. 


ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 24-6.) 

KING JOHN. Be thou as lightning in the eyes of France, 
For ere thou canst report I will be there, 
The thunder of my cannon shall be heard. 

The simile does not suit well : the lightning indeed 
appears before the thunder is heard, but the lightning 
is destructive, and the thunder innocent. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 27-8.) 

Be thou the trumpet of our wrath, 
And sullen presage of your own decay. 

By the epithet sullen, which cannot be applied to 
a trumpet, it is plain, that our authour's imagination 

104 KING J HN 

had now suggested a new idea. It is as if he had said, 
be a trumpet to alarm with our invasion, be a bird of 
ill omen to croak out the prognostick of your own ruin. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. i. 225.) Colbrand the giant. 

Colbrand was a Danish giant, whom Guy of Warwick 
discomfited in the presence of king Athelstan. The 
combat is very pompously described by Drayton in his 

ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. i. 300 foil.) 

FRENCH HERALD. Ye men of Angiers, &c. 

This speech is very poetical and smooth, and except 
the conceit of the widow's husband embracing the earth, 
is just and beautiful. 

ACT II. SCENE v. (n. i. 477-9.) 

Lest zeal now melted by the windy breath 
Of soft petitions, pity and remorse, 
Cool and congeal again to what it was. 

We have here a very unusual, and, I think, not very 
just image of zeal, which in its highest degree is 
represented by others as a flame, but by Shakespeare 
as a frost. To repress zeal, in the language of others, 
is to cool, in Shakespeare's to melt it ; when it exerts 
its utmost power it is commonly said to flame, but 
by Shakespeare to be congealed. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 70-1.) 

CONSTANCE. To me, and to the State of my great Grief, 
Let Kings assemble. 

In Much ado about nothing, the father of Hero, 
depressed by her disgrace, declares himself so subdued 
by grief that a thread may lead him. How is it that 
grief in Leonato and lady Constance, produces effects 
directly opposite, and yet both agreeable to nature. 


Sorrow softens the mind while it is yet warmed by 
hope, but hardens it when it is congealed by despair. 
Distress, while there remains any prospect of relief, 
is weak and flexible, but when no succour remains, is 
fearless and stubborn ; angry alike at those that injure, 
and at those that do not help ; careless to please where 
nothing can be gained, and fearless to offend when 
there is nothing further to be dreaded. Such was this 
writer's knowledge of the passions. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. i. 75-134.) 

What was the ground of this quarrel of the Bastard to Austria 
is no where specify'd in the present play ; nor is there in this 
place, or the scene where it is first hinted at (namely the second 
of Act 2.) the least mention of any reason for it. But the story 
is, that Austria, who kill'd King Richard Cceur-de-lion, wore as the 
spoil of that Prince, a lion's hide which had belong'd to him 
This circumstance renders the anger of the Bastard very natural, 
and ought not to have been omitted. In the first sketch of this 
play (which Shakespeare is said to have had a hand in, jointly 
with William Rowley} we accordingly find this insisted upon, and 
I have ventured to place a few of those verses here. POPE. 

To the insertion of these lines I have nothing to 
object. There are many other passages in the old 
play, of great value. The omission of this incident, 
in the second draught, was natural. Shakespeare, 
having familiarised the story of his own imagination, 
forgot that it was obscure to his audience ; or, what 
is equally probable, the story was then so popular that 
a hint was sufficient at that time to bring it to mind, 
and these plays were written with very little care for 
the approbation of posterity. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 149-51.) 

KING JOHN. 'Thou canst not, Cardinal, devise a name 
So slight, unworthy, and ridiculous, 
To charge me to an answer, as the Pope. 

This must have been at the time when it was written, 
in our struggles with popery, a very captivating scene. 


So many passages remain in which Shakespeare 
evidently takes his advantage of the facts then recent, 
and of the passions then in motion, that I cannot but 
suspect that time has obscured much of his art, and 
that many allusions yet remain undiscovered which 
perhaps may be gradually retrieved by succeeding 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 204-6.) 

LEWIS. Bethink you, father ; for the difference 

Is purchase of a heavy curse front Rome. 
Or the light loss of England for a friend 

It is a political maxim, that kingdoms are never 
married. Lewis upon the wedding is for making war 
upon his new relations. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 280 foil.) 

PANDULPH. But thou hast sworn against religion, &c. 

In this long speech, the Legate is made to shew his skill in 
casuistry ; and the strange heap of quibble and nonsense of which 
it consists, was intended to ridicule that of the schools. WAR- 

I am not able to discover here any thing inconse- 
quent or ridiculously subtle. The propositions, that 
the voice of the church is the voice of heaven, and that 
the Pope utters the voice of the church, neither of which 
Pandulptfs auditors would deny, being once granted, 
the argument here used is irresistible ; nor is it easy, 
notwithstanding the gingle, to enforce it with greater 
brevity or propriety. 

In swearing by religion against religion, to which thou 
hast already sworn, thou makest an oath the security for 
thy faith against an oath already taken. I will give, 
says he, a rule for conscience in these cases. Thou 
mayst be in doubt about the matter of an oath ; when 
thou swearest thou mayst not be always sure to swear 
rightly, but let this be thy settled principle, swear 


only not to be forsworn ; let not thy latter oaths be at 
variance with thy former. 

Truth, through this whole speech, means rectitude 
of conduct. 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. ii. 1-3.) 

Now, by my life, this day grows wond'rous hot ; 

Some airy devil hovers in the sky, 

And pours down mischief. 

We must read, Some fiery devil, if we will have the cause equal 
to the effect. WARBURTON. 

There is no end of such alterations ; every page of 
a vehement and negligent writer will afford opportuni- 
ties for changes of terms, if mere propriety will justify 
them. Not that of this change the propriety is out 
of controversy. Dr. Warburton will have the devil 
fiery, because he makes the day hot ; the authour 
makes him airy, because be hovers in the sky, and the 
heat and mischief are natural consequences of his 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. iv. 61.) 

KING PHILIP. Bind up those tresses. 

It was necessary that Constance should be interrupted, 
because a passion so violent cannot be born long. I wish 
the following speeches had been equally happy ; but 
they only serve to shew, how difficult it is to maintain 
the pathetick long. 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. iv. 99-100.) 

CONSTANCE. Had you such a loss as /, 

/ could give better comfort. 

This is a sentiment which great sorrow always dic- 
tates. Whoever cannot help himself casts his eyes on 
others for assistance, and often mistakes their inability 
for coldness. 


ACT III. SCENE vii. (in. iv. 107.) 

LEWIS. There's nothing in this world can make me joy. 

The young Prince feels his defeat with more sensi- 
bility than his father, Shame operates most strongly 
in the earlier years, and when can disgrace be less 
welcome than when a man is going to his bride ? 

ACT III. SCENE vii. (in. iv. 176-7.) 

As a little snow, tumbled about, 
Anon becomes a mountain. 

Bacon, in his history of Henry VII. speaking of 
Perkins march, observes, that their snow-ball did not 
gather as it rolled. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 101-2.) 

ARTHUR. Or, Hubert, if you will, cut out my tongue, 
So I may keep mine eyes. 

This is according to nature. We imagine no evil 
so great as that which is near us. 

ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. ii. 197-8.) 

Slippers, which his nimble haste 
Had falsely thrust upon contrary feet. 

I know not how the commentators understand this 
important passage, which, in Dr. Warburtori's edition, 
is marked as eminently beautiful, and, in the whole, 
not without justice. But Shakespeare seems to have 
confounded a man's shoes with his gloves. He that 
is frighted or hurried may put his hand into the wrong 
glove, but either shoe will equally admit either foot. 
The authour seems to be disturbed by the disorder 
which he describes. 

ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. ii. 231-5.) 

KING JOHN. Hadst thou but shook thy head, or made a pause, . . . 
Deep shame had struck me dumb. 

There are many touches of nature in this conference 


of John with Hubert. A man engaged in wickedness 
would keep the profit to himself, and transfer the 
guilt to his accomplice. These reproaches vented 
against Hubert are not the words of art or policy, but 
the eruptions of a mind swelling with consciousness 
of a crime, and desirous of discharging its misery on 

This account of the timidity of guilt is drawn ab 
ipsis reresibus mentis, from an intimate knowledge of 
mankind, particularly that line in which he says, that 
to have bid him tell his tale in express words, would have 
struck him dumb ; nothing is more certain, than that 
bad men use all the arts of fallacy upon themselves, 
palliate their actions to their own minds by gentle 
terms, and hide themselves from their own detection 
in ambiguities and subterfuges. 

The tragedy of King John, though not written 
with the utmost power of Shakespeare, is varied with 
a very pleasing interchange of incidents and characters. 
The Lady's grief is very affecting, and the character 
of the Bastard contains that mixture of greatness and 
levity which this authour delighted to exhibit. 

There is extant another play of King John, pub- 
lished with Shakespeare's name, so different from this, 
and I think from all his other works, that there is 
reason to think his name was prefixed only to recom- 
mend it to sale. No man writes upon the same 
subject twice, without concurring in many places with 



ACT I. SCENE v. (i. iii. 227-8.) 

GAUNT. Shorten my days tbou canst with sullen sorrow. 

And pluck nights from me, but not lend a morrow. 

It is matter of very melancholy consideration, that 
all human advantages confer more power of doing evil 
than good. 

ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 21.) 

Report of fashions in proud Italy. 

Our authour, who gives to all nations the customs 
of England, and to all ages the manners of his own ; has 
charged the times of Richard with a folly not perhaps 
known then, but very frequent in Shakespeare's time, 
and much lamented by the wisest and best of our 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. ii. 56-7.) 

K. RICHARD. The breath of worldly men cannot depose 
The Deputy elected by the Lord. 

Here is the doctrine of indefeasible right expressed 
in the strongest terms, but our poet did not learn it 
in the reign of King James, to which it is now the 
practice of all writers, whose opinions are regulated 
by fashion or interest, to impute the original of every 
tenet which they have been taught to think false or 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (HI. ii. 93.) 

K. RICHARD. Mine ear is open, and my heart prepared. 

It seems to be the design of the poet to raise Richard 
to esteem in his fall, and consequently to interest 
the reader in his favour. He gives him only passive 


fortitude, the virtue of a confessor rather than of 
a king. In his prosperity we saw him imperious and 
oppressive, but in his distress he is wise, patient, and 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (HI. ii. 153-4.) 

That small model of the barren earth, 
Which serves as paste and cover to our bones. 

A metaphor, not of the most sublime kind, taken 
from a pie. 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. ii. 207-8.) 

K. RICHARD. By beav'n, I'll hate him everlastingly, 
'That bids me be of comfort any more. 

This sentiment is drawn from nature. Nothing is 
more offensive to a mind convinced that his distress 
is without a remedy, and preparing to submit quietly 
to irresistible calamity, than these petty and conjec- 
tured comforts which unskilful officiousness thinks it 
virtue to administer. 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (111.111.155-7.) 

K. RICHARD. Or I'll be buried in the King's high way, 

Some way of common Trade, where Subjects' feet 
May hourly trample on their Sovereign's head. 

Shakespeare is very apt to deviate from the pathetick 
to the ridiculous. Had the speech of Richard ended 
at this line it had exhibited the natural language of 
submissive misery, conforming its intention to the 
present fortune, and calmly ending its purposes in 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 39-40.) 

FITZWATER. / will turn thy falsehood to thy heart, 

Where it was forged, with my rapier's point. 

Shakespeare deserts the manners of the age in which 
his drama is placed very often, without necessity or 


advantage. The edge of a sword had served his 
purpose as well as the point of a rapier, and he had 
then escaped the impropriety of giving the English 
nobles a weapon which was not seen in England till 
two centuries afterwards. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. i. 125-8.) 

CARLISLE. And shall the Figure of God's Majesty, 
His Captain, Steward, Deputy elect, . . . 
Be judg'd by subject and inferior breath f 

Here is another proof that our authour did not 
learn in King James's court his elevated notions of 
the right of kings. I know not any flatterer of the 
Stuarts who has expressed this doctrine in much 
stronger terms. It must be observed that the Poet 
intends from the beginning to the end to exhibit this 
bishop as brave, pious, and venerable. 

ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. i. 322-3.) 

CARLISLE. The children yet unborn, 

Shall feel this day as sharp to them as thorn. 

This pathetick denunciation shews that Shakespeare 
intended to impress his auditors with dislike of the 
deposal of Richard. 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 46.) 

For why ? the senseless brands will sympathize. 

The poet should have ended this speech with the 
foregoing line, and have spared his childish prattle 
about the fire. 

This play is extracted from the Chronicle of Hol- 
lingshead, in which many passages may be found which 
Shakespeare has, with very little alteration, transplanted 
into his scenes ; particularly a speech of the bishop of 
Carlisle in defence of King Richard's unalienable right, 
and immunity from human jurisdiction. 


Johnson, who, in his Cataline and Sejanus, has 
inserted many speeches from the Roman historians, 
was, perhaps, induced to that practice by the example 
of Shakespeare, who had condescended sometimes to 
copy more ignoble writers. But Shakespeare had more 
of his own than Johnson, and, if he sometimes was 
willing to spare his labour, shewed by what he per- 
formed at other times, that his extracts were made by 
choice or idleness rather than necessity. 

This play is one of those which Shakespeare has 
apparently revised ; but as success in works of inven- 
tion is not always proportionate to labour, it is not 
finished at last with the happy force of some other of 
his tragedies, nor can be said much to affect the 
passions, or enlarge the understanding. 


Shakespeare has apparently designed a regular con- 
nection of these dramatick histories from Richard the 
second to Henry the fifth. King Henry, at the end of 
Richard the second, declares his purpose to visit the 
Holy Land, which he resumes in this speech. The 
complaint made by king Henry in the last act of Richard. 
the second, of the wildness of his son, prepares the 
reader for the frolicks which are here to be recounted, 
and the characters which are now to be exhibited. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 19.) 

As far as to the sepulchre of Christ, 

The lawfulness and justice of the holy wars have 
been much disputed ; but perhaps there is a principle 
on which the question may be easily determined. If 
it be part of the religion of the Mahometans, to 


ii4 * HENRY IV 

extirpate by the sword all other religions, it is, by the 
law of self defence, lawful for men of every other 
religion, and for Christians among others, to make 
war upon Mahometans, simply as Mahometans, as 
men obliged by their own principles to make war upon 
Christians, and only lying in wait till opportunity 
shall promise them success. 

ACT I. SCENE Hi. (i. ii. 217-18.) 

PRINCE HENRY. / know you all, and will a while uphold 
The unyok'd humour of your idleness. 

This speech is very artfully introduced to keep the 
Prince from appearing vile in the opinion of the 
audience ; it prepares them for his future reformation, 
and, what is yet more valuable, exhibits a natural 
picture of a great mind offering excuses to itself, and 
palliating those follies which it can neither justify nor 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 201-2.) 

HOTSPUR. By heav'n, methinks, it were an easy leap, 

To pluck bright honour from the pale-fac'd Moon. 

Tho' the expression be sublime and daring, yet the thought is 
the natural movement of an heroic mind. Euripides at least 
thought so, when he put the very same sentiment, in the same 
words, into the mouth of Eteocles / will not, madam, disguise my 
thoughts ; I could scale heaven, I could descend to the very entrails 
of the earth, if so be that by that price I could obtain a kingdom. 

Though I am very far from condemning this speech 
with Gildon and Theobald as absolute madness, yet I 
cannot find in it that profundity of reflection and 
beauty of allegory which the learned commentator 
has endeavoured to display. This sally of Hotspur 
may be, I think, soberly and rationally vindicated as 
the violent eruption of a mind inflated with ambition 
and fired with resentment ; as the boastful clamour 

i HENRY IV 115 

of a man able to do much, and eager to do more ; as 
the hasty motion of turbulent desire ; as the dark 
expression of indetermined thoughts. The passage 
from Euripides is surely not allegorical, yet it is pro- 
duced, and properly, as parallel. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 287-8.) 

WORCESTER. The King will always think him in our debt. 
And think we deem ourselves unsatisfy'd. 

This is a natural description of the state of mind 
between those that have conferred, and those that 
have received, obligations too great to be satisfied. 

That this would be the event of Northumberland's 
disloyalty was predicted by King Richard in the 
former play. 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 95-6.) 

We have the receipt of Fern-seed, we walk invisible. 
Fern is one of those plants which have their seed 
on the back of the leaf so small as to escape the sight. 
Those who perceived that fern was propagated by 
semination and yet could never see the seed, were 
much at a loss for a solution of the difficulty ; and as 
wonder always endeavours to augment itself, they 
ascribed to Fern-seed many strange properties ; some 
of which the rustick virgins have not yet forgotten or 

ACT II. SCENE viii. (11.^.41-127.) Enter Francis the drawer. 
This scene, helped by the distraction of the drawer, 
and grimaces of the prince, may entertain upon the 
stage, but afford not much delight to the reader. The 
authour has judiciously made it short. 

ACT II. SCENE xi. (11. iv. 384=4*) "J^H 

PRINCE HENRY. He that rides at high speed, and with a pistol 
kills a sparrow flying. 

Shakespeare never has any care to preserve the 


ii6 i HENRY IV 

manners of the time. Pistols were not known in the 
age of Henry. Pistols were, I believe, about our 
authour's time, eminently used by the Scots. Sir 
Henry Wotton somewhere makes mention of a Scotish 

ACT II. SCENE xi. (n. iv. 399-400.) 

FALSTAFF. Tou may buy land now as cheap as stinking 

In former times the prosperity of the nation was 
known by the value of land as now by the price of 
stocks. Before Henry the seventh made it safe to 
serve the king regnant, it was the practice at every 
revolution for the conqueror to confiscate the estates 
of those that opposed, and perhaps of those who did 
not assist him. Those, therefore, that foresaw a change 
of government, and thought their estates in danger, 
were desirous to sell them in haste for something that 
might be carried away. 

ACT II. SCENE xi. (n. iv. 446-7.) 

FALSTAFF. Though the camomile, the more it is trodden on, the 
faster it grows. 

This whole speech is supremely comick. The simile 
of camomile used to illustrate a contrary effect, brings 
to my remembrance an observation of a later writer 
of some merit, whom the desire of being witty has 
betrayed into a like thought. Meaning to enforce 
with great vehemence the mad temerity of young 
soldiers, he remarks, that though Bedlam be in the road 
to Hogsden, it is out of the way to promotion. 

ACT II. SCENE xi. (n. iv. 557.) 

PRINCE HENRY. Go, hide thee behind the arras. 

The bulk of Falstaff made him not the fittest to be 
concealed behind the hangings, but every poet sacri- 

i HENRY IV 117 

fices something to the scenery ; if Falstaff had not 
been hidden he could not have been found asleep, nor 
had his pockets searched. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 27-8.) 

HOTSPUR. Diseased Nature oftentimes breaks forth 
In strange eruptions. 

The poet has here taken, from the perverseness and 
contrariousness of Hotspur's temper, an opportunity 
of raising his character, by a very rational and philo- 
sophical confutation of superstitious errour. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (m. i. 97-8.) 

HOTSPUR. Methinks, my moiety, north from Burton here, 
In quantity equals not one of yours. 

Hotspur is here just such a divider as the Irishman who made 
three halves ; Therefore, for the honour of Shakespeare, I will 
suppose, with the Oxford Editor, that he wrote portion. WAR- 

I will not suppose it. 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. ii. 66-7.) 

To laugh at gybing boys, and stand the push 
Of every beardless, vain comparative. 

Of every boy whose vanity incited him to try his 
wit against the King's. 

When Lewis XIV. was asked, why, with so much wit, 
he never attempted raillery, he answered, that he who 
practised raillery ought to bear it in his turn, and that 
to stand the butt of raillery was not suitable to the 
dignity of a King. Scudery's Conversation. 

ACT III. SCENE v. (m. iii. 30.) 

FALSTAFF. Thou art the Knight of the burning lamp. 

This is a natural picture. Every man who feels in 
himself the pain of deformity, however, like this merry 
knight, he may affect to make sport with it among 

ii8 i HENRY IV 

those whom it is his interest to please, is ready to 
revenge any hint of contempt upon one whom he can 
use with freedom. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. i. 97-9.) 

All furnisbt, all in arms. 

All plum'd like Estridges, that with the wind 

Bailed like Eagles. 

A more lively representation of young men ardent 
for enterprize perhaps no writer has ever given. 

ACT IV. SCENE iii. (iv. ii. 21-2.) 

Worse than a struck-jowl, or a hurt wild duck. 

The repetition of the same image disposed Sir Ibo. 
Hanmer, and after him Dr. Warburton, to read, in 
opposition to all the copies, a struck Deer, which is 
indeed a proper expression, but not likely to have 
been corrupted. Shakespeare, perhaps, wrote a struck 
sorely which, being negligently read by a man not 
skilled in hunter's language, was easily changed to 
struck fowl. Sorel is used in Love's labour lost for 
a young deer, and the terms of the chase were, in our 
authour's time, familiar to the ears of every gentleman. 

ACT IV. SCENE iii. (iv. ii. 30-1.) 

Younger sons to younger brothers. 

Raleigh, in his discourse on war, uses this very 
expression for men of desperate fortune and wild 
adventure. Which borrowed it from the other I know 
not, but I think the play was printed before the 



This speech of Rumour is not inelegant or unpoetical, 
but is wholly useless, since we are told nothing which 
the first scene does not clearly and naturally discover. 
The only end of such prologues is to inform the 
audience of some facts previous to the action, of which 
they can have no knowledge from the persons of the 

ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. i. 159-60.) 

The rude scene may end, 
And darkness be the burier of the dead. 

The conclusion of this noble speech is extremely 
striking. There is no need to suppose it exactly 
philosophical, darkness in poetry may be absence of 
eyes as well as privation of light. Yet we may remark, 
that by an ancient opinion it has been held, that if 
the human race, for whom the world was made, were 
extirpated, the whole system of sublunary nature 
would cease. 

ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 166-8.) 

FALSTAFF. The young Prince hath mis-led me. I am the 
fellow with the great belly -, and be my dog. 

I do not understand this joke. Dogs lead the blind, 
but why does a dog lead the fat ? 

ACT I. SCENE v. (i. ii. 208-10.) 

CHIEF JUSTICE. Is not your voice broken ? your wind short ? 
your chin double f your wit single f 

We call a man single-witted who attains but one 
species of knowledge. This sense I know not how to 

120 2 HENRY IV 

apply to Falstaff, and rather think that the Chief 
Justice hints at a calamity always incident to a gray- 
haired wit, whose misfortune is, that his merriment 
is unfashionable. His allusions are to forgotten facts ; 
his illusions are drawn from notions obscured by time ; 
his wit is therefore single, such as none has any part in 
but himself. 

ACT II. SCENE v. (n. ii. 98-9.) 

Altbea dreamed she was delivered of a firebrand. 

Shakespeare is here mistaken in his Mythology, and 
has confounded Althea's firebrand with Hecuba's. The 
firebrand of Altbea was real ; but Hecuba, when she 
was big with Paris, dreamed that she was delivered 
of a firebrand that consumed the kingdom. 

ACT II. SCENE v. (11.11.189-91.) 

POINS. Put on two leather jerkins and aprons, and wait upon 
him at his table, as drawers. 

This was a plot very unlikely to succeed where the 
Prince and the drawers were all known, but it produces 
merriment, which bur authour found more useful than 

ACT III. SCENE v. (in. ii. 263-4.) 

BARDOLPH. Sir, a word with you ; 1 have three pound to free 
Mouldy and Bull-calf. 

Here seems to be a wrong computation. He had 
forty shillings for each. Perhaps he meant to conceal 
part of the profit. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 24.) 

MOWBRAY. Let us sway on, and face them in the field. 

I know not that I have ever seen sway in this sense, 
but I believe it is the true word, and was intended to 
express the uniform and forcible motion of a compact 

2 HENRY IV 121 

body. There is a sense of the noun in Milton kindred 
to this, where speaking of a weighty sword, he says, 
It descends with huge two-handed sway. 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. ii. 123) 

LANCASTER. Guard these traitors to the block of death. 

It cannot but raise some indignation to find this 
horrible violation of faith passed over thus slightly by 
the poet, without any note of censure or detestation. 

ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. iii. 93-5.) 

FALSTAFF. This same sober-blooded boy doth not love me, nor 
a man cannot make him laugh. 

Falstaff speaks here like a veteran in life. The 
young prince did not love him, and he despaired to 
gain his affection, for he could not make him laugh. 
Men only become friends by community of pleasures. 
He who cannot be softened into gayety cannot easily 
be melted into kindness. 

ACT IV. SCENE xi. (iv. v. 127.) 

England shall double gild his treble Guilt. 
Evidently the nonsense of some foolish Player. WARBURTON. 

I know not why this commentator should speak with 
so much confidence what he cannot know, or determine 
so positively what so capricious a writer as our poet 
might either deliberately or wantonly produce. This 
line is indeed such as disgraces a few that precede and 
follow it, but it suits well enough with the daggers hid 
in thought, and whetted on the flinty hearts ; and the 
answer which the prince makes, and which is applauded 
for wisdom, is not of a strain much higher than this 
ejected line. 

ACT IV. SCENE xi. (iv. v. 209.) 

To lead out many to the Holy Land. 

This journey to the Holy Land, of which the king 

122 2 HENRY IV 

very frequently revives the mention, had two motives, 
religion and policy. He durst not wear the ill-gotten 
crown without expiation, but in the act of expiation 
he contrives to make his wickedness successful. 

ACT IV. SCENE xi. (iv. v. 217-18.) 

KING HENRY. How I came by the Crown, God, forgive ! 
And, grant it may with thee in true peace live. 

This is a true picture of a mind divided between 
heaven and earth. He prays for the prosperity of 
guilt while he deprecates its punishment. 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 89.) Four terms or two actions. 

There is something humorous in making a spend- 
thrift compute time by the operation of an action for 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 90-3.) 

0, it is much that a lie with a slight oath, and a jest with a sad 
brow, will do with a fellow that never had the ache in his shoulders. 

That is, a young fellow, one whose disposition to 
merriment, time and pain have not yet impaired. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 60.) The cavaleroes about London. 

This was the term by which an airy splendid 
irregular fellow was distinguished. The soldiers of 
King Charles were called Cavaliers from the gayety 
which they affected in opposition to the sour faction 
of the parliament. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 80- 1.) 

SILENCE. An old man can do somewhat. 

It may be observed that Shakespeare, in the Merry 
Wives of Windsor, which he wrote after this play, for 
the greater commodiousness of his plot, changed the 
age of Silence. He is here a man advanced in years, 

2 HENRY IV 123 

with a son at the university : he there goes a courting 
to a young girl. Shallow is an old man in both plays. 

ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. v. 68.) 

KING. / banish tbee, on pain of death. 

Mr. Rowe observes, that many readers lament to see 
Falstaff so hardly used by his old friend. But if it be 
considered that the fat knight has never uttered one 
sentiment of generosity, and with all his power of 
exciting mirth, has nothing in him that can be esteemed, 
no great pain will be suffered from the reflection that 
he is compelled to live honestly, and maintained by 
the king, with a promise of advancement when he 
shall deserve it. 

I think the poet more blameable for Poins, who is 
always represented as joining some virtues with his 
vices, and is therefore treated by the prince with 
apparent distinction, yet he does nothing in the time 
of action, and though after the bustle is over he is 
again a favourite, at last vanishes without notice. 
Shakespeare certainly lost him by heedlessness, in the 
multiplicity of his characters, the variety of his action, 
and his eagerness to end the play. 

ACT V. SCENE ix. (v. v. 97.) 

CHIEF JUSTICE. Go, carry Sir John Falstaff to the Fleet. 

I do not see why Falstaff is carried to the Fleet. 
We have never lost sight of him since his dismission 
from the king ; he has committed no new fault, and 
therefore incurred no punishment ; but the different 
agitations of fear, anger, and surprise in him and his 
company, made a good scene to the eye ; and our 
authour, who wanted them no longer on the stage, 
was glad to find this method of sweeping them away. 

I fancy every reader, when he ends this play, cries 

124 2 HENRY IV 

out with Desdemona, O most lame and impotent conclu- 
sion I As this play was not, to our knowledge, divided 
into acts by the authour, I could be content to conclude 
it with the death of Henry the fourth. 

In that Jerusalem shall Harry dye. These scenes 
which now make the fifth act of Henry the fourth, 
might then be the first of Henry the fifth ; but the 
truth is, that they do unite very commodiously to 
either play. When these plays were represented, 
I believe they ended as they are now ended in the 
books ; but Shakespeare seems to have designed that 
the whole series of action from the beginning of Richard 
the second, to the end of Henry the fifth, should be 
considered by the reader as one work, upon one plan, 
only broken into parts by the necessity of exhibition. 

None of Shakespeare 9 s plays are more read than the 
first and second parts of Henry the fourth. Perhaps 
no authour has ever in two plays afforded so much 
delight. The great events are interesting, for the 
fate of kingdoms depends upon them ; the slighter 
occurrences are diverting, and, except one or two, 
sufficiently probable ; the incidents are multiplied 
with wonderful fertility of invention, and the charac- 
ters diversified with the utmost nicety of discernment, 
and the profoundest skill in the nature of man. 

The prince, who is the hero both of the comick and 
tragick part, is a young man of great abilities and 
violent passions, whose sentiments are right, though 
his actions are wrong ; whose virtues are obscured by 
negligence, and whose understanding is dissipated by 
levity. In his idle hours he is rather loose than wicked, 
and when the occasion forces out his latent qualities, 
he is great without effort, and brave without tumult. 
The trifler is roused into a hero, and the hero again 
reposes in the trifler. This character is great, original, 
and just. 

2 HENRY IV 125 

Piercy is a rugged soldier, cholerick, and quarrel- 
some, and has only the soldier's virtues, generosity 
and courage. 

But Falstaff unimitated, unimitable Falstaff, how 
shall I describe thee? Thou compound of sense and 
vice ; of sense which may be admired but not esteemed, 
of vice which may be despised, but hardly detested. 
Falstaff is a character loaded with faults, and with 
those faults which naturally produce contempt. He 
is a thief, and a glutton, a coward, and a boaster, 
always ready to cheat the weak, and prey upon the 
poor ; to terrify the timorous and insult the defence- 
less. At once obsequious and malignant, he satirises 
in their absence those whom he lives by flattering. 
He is familiar with the prince only as an agent of vice, 
but of this familiarity he is so proud as not only to be 
supercilious and haughty with common men, but to 
think his interest of importance to the duke of Lan- 
caster. Yet the man thus corrupt, thus despicable, 
makes himself necessary to the prince that despises 
him, by the most pleasing of all qualities, perpetual 
gaiety, by an unfailing power of exciting laughter, 
which is the more freely indulged, as his wit is not of 
the splendid or ambitious kind, but consists in easy 
escapes and sallies of levity, which make sport but 
raise no envy. It must be observed that he is stained 
with no enormous or sanguinary crimes, so that his 
licentiousness is not so offensive but that it may be 
borne for his mirth. 

The moral to be drawn from this representation is, 
that no man is more dangerous than he that with 
a will to corrupt, hath the power to please ; and that 
neither wit nor honesty ought to think themselves 
safe with such a companion when they see Henry 
seduced by Falstaff. 




A Kingdom for a stage. Princes to act. 
And Monarchs to behold the swelling scene ! 

Shakespeare does not seem to set distance enough 
between the performers and spectators. 


May we cram 

Within this wooden 0, the very cashes 
That did affright the air, at Agincourt ? 

Nothing shews more evidently the pfower of custom 
over language, than that the frequent use of calling 
a circle an O could so much hide the meanness of the 
metaphor from Shakespeare, that he has used it many 
times where he makes his most eager attempts at 
dignity of stile. 

PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 18.) Imaginary forces. 

Imaginary for imaginative, or your powers of fancy. 
Active and passive words are by this authour frequently 

PROLOGUE. (CHORUS 25.) And make imaginary puissance. 

This passage shews that Shakespeare was fully sensible 
of the absurdity of shewing battles on the theatre, 
which indeed is never done but tragedy becomes farce. 
Nothing can be represented to the eye but by some- 
thing like it, and within a wooden O nothing very like 
a battle can be exhibited. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 38.) 

Hear him but reason in divinity. 

This scene was added after King James's accession to the 
crown, so that we have no way of avoiding its being esteemed 
a compliment to him. WARBURTON. 

Why these lines should be divided from the rest of 

HENRY V 127 

the speech and applied to king James, I am not able 
to conceive ; nor why an opportunity should be so 
eagerly snatched to treat with contempt that part of 
his character which was least contemptible. King 
James's theological knowledge was not inconsiderable. 
To preside at disputations is not very suitable to 
a king, but to understand the questions is surely 
laudable. The poet, if he had James in his thoughts, 
was no skilful encomiast ; for the mention of Harry's 
skill in war, forced upon the remembrance of his 
audience the great deficiency of their present king ; 
who yet with all his faults, and many faults he had, 
was such that Sir Robert Cotton says, he would be 
content that England should never have a better, -provided 
that it should never have a worse. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 47-8.) 

When he speaks, 
The air, a chartered libertine, is still. 

This line is exquisitely beautiful. 

ACT II. SCENE iii. (n. ii. 126-7.) 

KING HENRY. Oh, how hast thou with jealousy infected 
The sweetness of affiance. 

Shakespeare urges this aggravation of the guilt of 
treachery with great judgment. One of the worst 
consequences of breach of trust is the diminution of 
that confidence which makes the happiness of life, and 
the dissemination of suspicion, which is the poison of 

ACT II. SCENE iii. (n. ii. 165.) 

GREY. My fault, but not my body, pardon, Sovereign. 

One of the conspirators against Queen Elizabeth, 
I think Parry, concludes his letter to her with these 

128 HENRY V 

words, a culpa, but not a poena ; absolve me most dear 
Lady. This letter was much read at that time, and 
the authour doubtless copied it. 

ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. iii. 27-8.) Cold as any stone. 

Such is the end of Falstaff, from whom Shakespeare 
had promised us in his epilogue to Henry IV. that we 
should receive more entertainment. It happened to 
Shakespeare as to other writers, to have his imagina- 
tion crowded with a tumultuary confusion of images, 
which, while they were yet unsorted and unexamined, 
seemed sufficient to furnish a long train of incidents, 
and a new variety of merriment, but which, when he 
was to produce them to view, shrunk suddenly from 
him, or could not be accommodated to his general 
design. That he once designed to have brought 
Falstaff on the scene again, we know from himself ; but 
whether he could contrive no train of adventures 
suitable to his character, or could match him with no 
companions likely to quicken his humour, or could 
open no new vein of pleasantry, and was afraid to 
continue the same strain lest it should not find the 
same reception, he has here for ever discarded him, 
and made haste to dispatch him, perhaps for the same 
reason for which Addison killed Sir Roger ^ that no other 
hand might attempt to exhibit him. 

Let meaner authours learn from this example, that 
it is dangerous to sell the bear which is yet not hunted, 
to promise to the publick what they have not written. 

This disappointment probably inclined Queen 
Elizabeth to command the poet to produce him once 
again, and to shew him in love or courtship. This was 
indeed a new source of humour, and produced a new 
play from the former characters. 

I forgot to note in the proper place, and therefore 
note here, that Falstaff courtship, or The Merry Wives 

HENRY V 129 

of Windsor, should be read between Henry IV. and 
Henry V. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. ii. 82 foil.) 

It were to be wished that the poor merriment of 
this dialogue [between Macmorris and Captain Jamy] 
had not been purchased with so much profaneness. 

ACT III. SCENE v. (in. iv.) 

CATHERINE. Alice, tu as este en Angleterre, &c. 
This scene is indeed mean enough, when it is read, 
but the grimaces of two French women, and the odd 
accent with which they uttered the English., made it 
divert upon the stage. It may be observed, that there 
is in it not only the French language, but the French 
spirit. Alice compliments the princess upon her 
knowledge of four words, and tells her that she pro- 
nounces like the English themselves. The princess 
suspects no deficiency in her instructress, nor the 
instructress in herself. Throughout the whole scene 
there may be found French servility, and French 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. v. 40 foil.) 

Charles Delabreth, high constable of France, &c. 
Milton somewhere bids the English take notice how 
their names are misspelt by foreigners, and seems to 
think that we may lawfully treat foreign names in 
return with the same neglect. This privilege seems 
to be exercised in this catalogue of French names, which, 
since the sense of the authour is not asserted, I have 
left it as I found it. 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (HI. v. 50-2.) 

Rush on bis host, as doth the melted snow 
Upon the vallies ; whose low vassal seat ] 
The Alps doth spit and void his rheum upon. 

The poet has here defeated himself by passing too 

130 HENRY V 

soon from one image to another. To bid the French 
rush upon the English as the torrents formed from 
melted snow stream from the Alps, was at once vehe- 
ment and proper, but its force is destroyed by the 
grossness of the thought in the next line. 

ACT III. SCENE viii. (111.^.114-15.) 

FLUELLEN. His nose is executed, and his fire's out. 

This is the last time that any sport can be made 
with the red face of Bardolph, which, to confess the 
truth, seems to have taken more hold on Shakespeare's 
imagination than on any other. The conception is 
very cold to the solitary reader, though it may be 
somewhat invigorated by the exhibition on the stage. 
This poet is always more careful about the present 
than the future, about his audience than his readers. 

ACT III. SCENE viii. (in. vi. 133-4.) Now speak we on our cue. 

In our turn. This phrase the authour learned 
among players, and has imparted it to kings. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. CHORUS 2-3.) 

The poring dark 

Fills the wide vessel of the universe. 

We are not to think Shakespear so ignorant as to imagine it 
was night over the whole globe at once. WARBURTON. 

There is a better proof that Shakespeare knew the 
order of night and day in Macbeth. 

Now o'er one half the world, 
Nature seems dead. 

But there was no great need of any justification. The 
universe, in its original sense, no more means this globe 
singly ^than the circuit of the horizon ; but, however 
large in its philosophical sense, it may be poetically 
used for as much of the world as falls under observation. 
Let me remark further, that ignorance cannot be 

HENRY V 131 

certainly inferred from inaccuracy. Knowledge is not 
always present. 

ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. i. 189-90.) 

Every subject's duty is the King's, but every subject's soul is 
his own. 

This is a very just distinction, and the whole argu- 
ment is well followed, and properly concluded. 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. i. 250 foil.) 

KING HENRY. Upon the King / &c. 

There is something very striking and solemn in this 
soliloquy, into which the king breaks immediately as 
soon as he is left alone. Something like this, on less 
occasions, every breast has felt. Reflection and 
seriousness rush upon the mind upon the separation 
of a gay company, and especially after forced and 
unwilling merriment. 

ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 24.) 

KING HENRY. By Jove, / am not covetous of gold. 

The king prays like a Christian, and swears like 
a heathen. 

ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 50-1.) 

They'll remember, with advantages. 
What feats they did that day. 

Old men, notwithstanding the natural forgetfulness 
of age, shall remember their feats of this day, and 
remember to tell them with advantage. Age is com- 
monly boastful, and inclined to magnify past acts 
and past times. 

ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. iii. 57-9.) 

Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by, 
From this day to the ending of the world, 
But we in it shall be remembered. 

It may be observed that we are apt to promise to 
K 2 

I 3 2 HENRY V 

ourselves a more lasting memory than the changing 
state of human things admits. This prediction is 
not verified ; the feast of Crispin passes by without 
any mention of Agincourt. Late events obliterate the 
former : the civil wars have left in this nation scarcely 
any tradition of more ancient history. 

ACT IV. SCENE ix. (iv. iii. 104.) 

Mark then abounding valour in our English. 

The valour of a putrid body, that destroys by the 
stench, is one of the thoughts that do no great honour 
to the poet. Perhaps from this putrid valour Dryden 
might borrow the posthumous empire of Don Sebastian, 
who was to reign wheresoever his atoms should be 

ACT IV. SCENE xiv. (iv. vii. 5 1-2.) 

The fat Knight with the great belly-doublet. 

This is the last time that Falstaff can make sport. 
The poet was loath to part with him, and has continued 
his memory as long as he could. 

ACT V. SCENE ii. (v. i. 94.) Exit Pistol. 

The comick scenes of the history of Henry the 
fourth and fifth are now at an end, and all the comick 
personages are now dismissed. Falstaff and Mrs. 
Quickly are dead ; Nym and Bardol-ph are hanged ; 
Gadsbill was lost immediately after the robbery ; 
Poins and Peto have vanished since, one knows not 
how ; and Pistol is now beaten into obscurity. I be- 
lieve every reader regrets their departure. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. ii. 125 foil.) 

KING HENRY. 1' faith, Kate, thou wouldst find me such a plain 
King, &c. 

I know not why Shakespeare now gives the king nearly 

HENRY V 133 

such a character as he made him formerly ridicule in 
Percy. This military grossness and unskilfulness in all 
the softer arts, does not suit very well with the gaieties 
of his youth, with the general knowledge ascribed to 
him at his accession, or with the contemptuous message 
sent him by the Daufkin, who represents him as fitter 
for the ball room than the field, and tells him that 
he is not to revel into dutchies, or win provinces with 
a nimble galliard. The truth is, that the poet's matter 
failed him in the fifth act, and he was glad to fill it up 
with whatever he could get ; and not even Shake- 
speare can write well without a proper subject. It is 
a vain endeavour for the most skilful hand to cultivate 
barrenness, or to paint upon vacuity. 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 305-402.) 

We have here but a mean dialogue for princes ; the 
merriment is very gross, and the sentiments are very 

This play has many scenes of high dignity, and many 
of easy merriment. The character of the King is well 
supported, except in his courtship, where he has 
neither the vivacity of Hal, nor the grandeur of Henry. 
The humour of Pistol is very happily continued ; his 
character has perhaps been the model of all the bullies 
that have yet appeared on the English stage. 

The lines given to the chorus have many admirers ; 
but the truth is, that in them a little may be praised, 
and much must be forgiven ; nor can it be easily 
discovered why the intelligence given by the chorus 
is more necessary in this play than in many others 
where it is omitted. The great defect of this play is 
the emptiness and narrowness of the last act, which 
a very little diligence might have easily avoided. 



ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 25, 27.) 

The subtle-wilted French 
By magick verse have thus contrived his end. 

There was a notion prevalent a long time, that life 
might be taken away by metrical charms. As super- 
stition grew weaker these charms were imagined only 
to have power on irrational animals. In our authour's 
time it was supposed that the Irish could kill rats by 
a song. 

ACT II. SCENE vi. (11. v. 1-2.) 

MORTIMER. Kind keepers of my weak decaying age 
Let dying Mortimer here rest himself. 

1 know not whether Milton did not take from this 
hint the lines with which he opens his tragedy. 

ACT III. SCENE ix. (m. iii. 85.) 

Done like a Frenchman : turn, and turn again I 

The inconstancy of the French was always the sub- 
ject of satire. I have read a dissertation written to 
prove that the index of the wind upon our steeples was 
made in form of a cock, to ridicule the French for their 
frequent changes. 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. v.) Enter lalbot and his son. 

For what reason this scene is written in rhyme 
I cannot guess. If Shakespeare had not in other plays 
mingled his rhymes and blank verses in the same 
manner, I should have suspected that this dialogue 
had been a part of some other poem which was never 
finished, and that being loath to throw his labour 
away, he inserted it here. 

i HENRY VI 135 

ACT V. SCENE i. (iv. vii.) 

The return of rhyme where young Talbot is again 
mentioned, and in no other place, strengthens the 
suspicion, that these verses were originally part of 
some other work, and were copied here only to save 
the trouble of composing new. 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iii. 6.) Monarch of the North. 

The North was always supposed to be the particular 
habitation of bad spirits. Milton therefore assembles 
the rebel angels in the North. 

ACT V. SCENE iv. (v. iii. 62 foil.) 

As plays the sun upon the glassy streams^ &c. 
This comparison, made between things which seem 
sufficiently unlike, is intended to express the softness 
and delicacy of Lady Margaret's beauty, which de- 
lighted, but did not dazzle ; which was bright, but 
gave no pain by its lustre. 

Of this play there is no copy earlier than that of the 
folio in 1623, though the two succeeding parts are 
extant in two editions in quarto. That the second 
and third parts were published without the first may be 
admitted as no weak proof that the copies were surrep- 
titiously obtained, and that the printers of that time 
gave the publick those plays not such as the authour 
designed, but such as they could get them. That this 
play was written before the two others is indubitably 
collected from the series of events ; that it was written 
and played before Henry the fifth is apparent, because 
in the epilogue there is mention made of this play 
and not of the other parts. 

Henry the sixth in swaddling bands crown* d king. 
Whose state so many had i'th 9 managing 
That they lost France, and made all England rue, 
Which oft our stage hath shewn. 

136 i HENRY VI 

France is lost in this play. The two following contain, 
as the old title imports, the contention of the houses 
of York and Lancaster. 

The two first parts of Henry VI. were printed in 
1600. When Henry V. was written we know not, but 
it was printed likewise in 1600, and therefore before 
the publication of the first and second parts, the first 
part of Henry VI. had been often shown on the stage > 
and would certainly have appeared in its place had the 
authour been the publisher. 


It is apparent that this play begins where the former 
ends, and continues the series of transactions, of which 
it presupposes the first part already known. This is 
a sufficient proof that the second and third parts were 
not written without dependance on the first, though 
they were printed as containing a complete period of 

ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 3-4.) 

The wtnd was very high. 
And, ten to one, old Joan had not gone out. 

I am told by a gentleman better acquainted with 
falconry than myself, that the meaning, however 
expressed, is, that, the wind being high, it was ten 
to one that the old hawk had flown quite away ; 
a trick which hawks often play their masters in windy 

ACT II. SCENE vii. (n. iv. in.) 

ELEANOR. / long to see my prison. 

This impatience of a high spirit is very natural. It 

2 HENRY VI 137 

is not so dreadful to be imprisoned, as it is desirable 
in a state of disgrace to be sheltered from the scorn of 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 210-11.) 

And as the Butcher takes away the Calf, 

And binds the wretch, and beats it when it strays. 

I am inclined to believe that in this passage, as 
in many, there is a confusion of ideas, and that the 
poet had at once before him a butcher carrying a calf 
bound, and a butcher driving a calf to the slaughter, 
and beating him when he did not keep the path. 
Part of the line was suggested by one image and part 
by another, so that strive is the best word, but stray 
is the right. 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. ii. 161-2.) 

Oft have I seen a timely-parted ghost. 

Of ashy semblance, meager, pale, and bloodless. 

All that is true of the body of a dead man is here said 
by Warwick of the soul. I would read, 

Oft have I seen a timely-carted coarse, 
But of two common words how or why was one changed 
for the other? I believe the transcriber thought that 
the epithet timely -par ted could not be used of the 
body, but that, as in Hamlet there is mention of peace- 
parted souls, so here timely-parted must have the same 
substantive. He removed one imaginary difficulty and 
made many real. If the soul is parted from the body, 
the body is likewise parted from the soul. 

I cannot but stop a moment to observe that this 
horrible description is scarcely the work of any pen 
but Shakespeare's. 

ACT III. SCENE viii. (m. ii. 310.) 

Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan. 
The fabulous accounts of the plant called a mandrake 

138 2 HENRY VI 

give it an inferiour degree of animal life, and relate, 
that when it is torn from the ground, it groans, and 
that this groan being certainly fatal to him that is 
offering such unwelcome violence, the practice of those 
who gather mandrakes is to tie one end of a string to 
the plant, and the other to a dog, upon which the 
fatal groan discharges its malignity. 

ACT III. SCENE viii. (in. ii. 333.) 

Tou bad me ban, and will you bid me leave ? 
This inconsistency is very common in real life. Those 
who are vexed to impatience are angry to see others less 
disturbed than themselves, but when others begin to 
rave, they themselves see in them, what they could not 
find in themselves, the deformity and folly of useless 

ACT III. SCENE x. (in. iii.) Death of Cardinal Beaufort. 

This is one of the scenes which have been applauded 
by the criticks, and which will continue to be admired 
when prejudice shall cease, and bigotry give way to 
impartial examination. These are beauties that rise 
out of nature and of truth ; the superficial reader 
cannot miss them, the profound can image nothing 
beyond them. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. i.) The gaudy, blabbing . . . day. 

The epithet blabbing applied to the day by a man 
about to commit murder, is exquisitely beautiful. 
Guilt is afraid of light, considers darkness as a natural 
shelter, and makes night the confidante of those actions 
which cannot be trusted to the tell-tale day. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 3-6.) 

The fades 

That drag the tragick melancholy night. 
Who with their drowsy, slow, and flagging wings, 
Clip dead mens 1 graves. 

The wings of the jades that drag night appears an 

2 HENRY VI 139 

unnatural image, till it is remembered that the chariot 
of the night is supposed, by Shakespeare, to be drawn 
by dragons. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 38.) 

CADE. For our enemies shall fall before us. 
He alludes to his name Cade, from cado, Lat. to fall. 
He has too much learning for his character. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 81-2.) There shall be no money. 

To mend the world by banishing money is an old 
contrivance of those who did not consider that the 
quarrels and mischiefs which arise from money, as the 
sign or ticket of riches, must, if money were to cease, 
arise immediately from riches themselves, and could 
never be at an end till every man was contented with 
his own share of the goods of life. 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vii. 39-40.) 

Thou hast caused printing to be us'd. 
Shakespeare is a little too early with this accusation. 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vii. 54-5.) 

Thou oughfst not to let thy horse wear a cloak. 
This is a reproach truly characteristical. Nothing 
gives so much offence to the lower ranks of mankind 
as the sight of superfluities merely ostentatious. 

ACT IV. SCENE ix. (iv. x. 84.) 

So wish /, / might thrust thy soul to hell. 
Not to dwell upon the wickedness of this horrid 
wish, with which Iden debases his character, this whole 
speech is wild and confused. To draw a man by the 
heels, headlong, is somewhat difficult ; nor can I dis- 
cover how the dunghill would be his grave if his trunk 
were left to be fed upon by crows. These I conceive 
not to be the faults of corruption, but of negligence, 
and therefore do not attempt correction. 

I 4 


This play is only divided from the former for the 
convenience of exhibition ; for the series of action is 
continued without interruption, nor are any two 
scenes of any play more closely connected than the 
first scene of this play with the last of the former. 

ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. i. 236.) 

What is it but to make thy Sepulchre. 

The Queen's reproach is founded on a position long 
received among politicians, that the loss of a King's 
power is soon followed by loss of life. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 22-3.) 

An oath is of no moment, being not took 
Before a true and lawful magistrate. 

The obligation of an oath is here eluded by very 
despicable sophistry. A lawful magistrate alone has 
the power to exact an oath, but the oath derives no 
part of its force from the magistrate. The plea against 
the obligation of an oath obliging to maintain an 
usurper, taken from the unlawfulness of the oath itself 
in the foregoing play, was rational and just. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 49-50.) 

The Queen, with all the Northern Earls and Lords, 
Intend here to besiege you in your castle. 

I know not whether the authour intended any moral 
instruction, but he that reads this has a striking 
admonition against that precipitancy by which men 
often use unlawful means to do that which a little 
delay would put honestly in their power. Had York 
staid but a few moments he had saved his cause from 
the stain of perjury. 

3 HENRY VI 141 

ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. iv. 132.) 

'Tis government that makes them [i,e, women] seem divine. 

Government) in the language of that time, signified 
evenness of temper, and decency of manners. 

ACT II. SCENE!. (11.1.48.) 

EDWARD. Oh, speak no more! 

The generous tenderness of Edward, and savage 
fortitude of Richard, are well distinguished by their 
different reception of their father's death. 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 130-2.) 

Our soldiers, like the night-owl's lazy flight, 
Or like a lazy thrasher with a flail, 
Fell gently down. 

This image [of the night-owl] is not very congruous 
to the subject, nor was it necessary to the comparison, 
which is happily enough completed by the thresher. 

ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. v. 21 foil.) 

God ! methinks it were a happy life 
To be no better than a homely swain. 

This speech is mournful and soft, exquisitely suited 
to the character of the king, and makes a pleasing 
interchange, by affording, amidst the tumult and 
horrour of the battle, an unexpected glimpse of rural 
innocence and pastoral tranquillity. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 17.) Thy balm washt off. 

It is common in these plays to find the same images, 
whether jocular or serious, frequently recurring. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (HI. ii. 16 foil.) 

This is a very lively and spritely dialogue [between 
King Edward and Lady Gray] ; th reciprocation is 
quicker than is common in Shakespeare. 

I 4 2 3 HENRY VI 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. ii. 161.) Unlick'd bear-whelp. 

It was an opinion which, in spite of its absurdity, 
prevailed long, that the bear brings forth only shape- 
less lumps of animated flesh, which she licks into the 
form of bears. It is now well known that the whelps 
of a bear are produced in the same state with those of 
other creatures. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. ii. 166-7.) 

To overbear such 
As are of better person than myself. 

Richard speaks here the language of nature. Who- 
ever is stigmatised with deformity has a constant 
source of envy in his mind, and would counterbalance 
by some other superiority these advantages which 
they feel themselves to want. Bacon remarks that the 
deformed are commonly daring, and it is almost pro- 
verbially observed that they are ill-natured. The 
truth is, that the deformed, like all other men, are 
displeased with inferiority, and endeavour to gain 
ground by good or bad means, as they are virtuous or 

ACT III. SCENE v. (in. iii. 127.) Exempt from envy. 

Envy is always supposed to have some fascinating 
or blasting power, and to be out of the reach of envy 
is therefore a privilege belonging only to great ex- 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 42-3.) 

HASTINGS. 'Tts better using France, than trusting France. 
Let us be back'd with God, and with the seas. 

This has been the advice of every man who in any 
age understood and favoured the interest of England. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 56.) 

Tou would not have bestow'd the heir. 
It must be remembered, that till the restoration the 

3 HENRY VI 143 

heiresses of great estates were in the wardship of the 
king, who in their minority gave them up to plunder, 
and afterwards matched them to his favourites. 
I know not when liberty gained more than by the 
abolition of the court of wards. 

ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 29.) 

Few men rightly temper with the stars. 

I suppose the meaning is, that few men conform their 
temper to their destiny, which King Henry did, when 
finding himself unfortunate he gave the management 
of publick affairs to more prosperous hands. 

ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 70.) 

This pretty lad will prove our country's bliss. 

He was afterwards Henry VII. A man who put an 
end to the civil war of the two houses, but not other- 
wise remarkable for virtue. Shakespeare knew his trade. 
Henry VII. was Grandfather to Queen Elizabeth, and 
the King from whom James inherited. 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 24-5.) 

My parks, my walks, my manors that I had, 
Ev'n now forsake me. 

Cedes c&mptis saltibus, et domo, Villdque. HOR. 

This mention of his parks and manours diminishes 
the pathetick effect of the foregoing lines. 

ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. iv. 67 foil.) 

This scene is ill-contrived, in which the king and 
queen appear at once on the stage at the head of 
opposite armies. It had been easy to make one retire 
before the other entered. 

ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. v. 51.) 

QUEEN. Oh Ned, sweet Ned ! 

The condition of this warlike queen would move 

144 3 HENRY VI 

compassion could it be forgotten that she gave York, 
to wipe his eyes in his captivity, a handkerchief stained 
with his young child's blood. 

The three parts of Henry VI. are suspected, by 
Mr. Theobald, of being supposititious, and are de- 
clared, by Dr. Warburton, to be certainly not Shake- 
speare's. Mr. Theobald's suspicion arises from some 
obsolete words ; but the phraseology is like the rest of 
our authour's stile, and single words, of which however 
I do not observe more than two, can conclude little. 

Dr. Warburton gives no reason, but I suppose him 
to judge upon deeper principles and more compre- 
hensive views, and to draw his opinion from the 
general effect and spirit of the composition, which he 
thinks inferior to the other historical plays. 

From mere inferiority nothing can be inferred ; in 
the productions of wit there will be inequality. Some- 
times judgment will err, and sometimes the matter 
itself will defeat the artist. Of every authour's works 
one will be the best, and one will be the worst. The 
colours are not equally pleasing, nor the attitudes equally 
graceful, in all the pictures of Titian or Reynolds. 

Dissimilitude of stile and heterogeneousness of senti- 
ment, may sufficiently show that a work does not really 
belong to the reputed authour. But in these plays no 
such marks of spuriousness are found. The diction, the 
versification, and the figures, are Shakespeare's. These 
plays, considered, without regard to characters and 
incidents, merely as narratives in verse, are more 
happily conceived and more accurately finished than 
those of king Jo bn, Richard II., or the tragick scenes 
of Henry IV. and V. If we take these plays from 
Shakespeare, to whom shall they be given? What 
authour of that age had the same easiness of expression 
and fluency of numbers ? 

3 HENRY VI 145 

Having considered the evidence given by the plays 
themselves, and found it in their favour, let us now 
enquire what corroboration can be gained from other 
testimony. They are ascribed to Shakespeare by the 
first editors, whose attestation may be received in 
questions of fact, however unskilfully they superin- 
tended their edition. They seem to be declared 
genuine by the voice of Shakespeare himself, who 
refers to the second play in his epilogue to Henry V. 
and apparently connects the first act of Richard III. 
with the last of the third part of Henry VI. If it be 
objected that the plays were popular, and therefore 
he alluded to them as well known ; it may be answered, 
with equal probability, that the natural passions of 
a poet would have disposed him to separate his own 
works from those of an inferior hand. And indeed 
if an authour's own testimony is to be overthrown by 
speculative criticism, no man can be any longer secure 
of literary reputation. 

Of these three plays I think the second the best. 
The truth is, that they have not sufficient variety of 
action, for the incidents are too often of the same 
kind ; yet many of the characters are well discriminated. 
King Henry ', and his queen, king Edward, the duke of 
Gloucester, and the earl of Warwick, are very strongly 
and distinctly painted. 

The old copies of the two latter parts of Henry VI. 
and of Henry V. are so apparently imperfect and 
mutilated, that there is no reason for supposing them 
the first draughts of Shakespeare. I am inclined to be- 
lieve them copies taken by some auditor who wrote down, 
during the representation, what the time would permit, 
then perhaps filled up some of his omissions at a 
second or third hearing, and when he had by this method 
formed something like a play, sent it to the printer. 


i 4 6 


ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 28.) 

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover. 
Shakespeare very diligently inculcates, that the 
wickedness of Richard proceeded from his deformity, 
from the envy that rose at the comparison of his own 
person with others, and which incited him to disturb 
the pleasures that he could not partake. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 108-10.) 

GLOUCESTER. Whatsoever you will employ me in, 

Were it to call King Edward's widow sister, 
I will perform it. 

This is a very covert and subtle manner of insinuating 
treason. The natural expression would have been, 
were it to call King Edward'j wife sister. I will solicit 
for you though it should be at the expence of so much 
degradation and constraint, as to own the lowborn 
wife of King Edward for a sister. But by slipping as 
it were casually widow into the place of wife, he tempts 
Clarence with an oblique proposal to kill the king. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 55-6.) 

See, dead Henry's wounds 
Open their congeaVd mouths and bleed afresh. 

It is a tradition very generally received, that the 
murdered body bleeds on the touch of the murderer. 
This was so much believed by Sir Kenelm Digby that 
he has endeavoured to explain the reason. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 153.) They kill me with a living death. 
In imitation of this passage, and I suppose of 
a thousand more ; 

a living death 7 bear, 

Says Dapperwit, and sunk beside his chair. 


ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. ii. 180-1.) 

/ did kill King Henry, 
But 'twas thy beauty that provoked me. 

Shakespeare countenances the observation, that no 
woman can ever be offended with the mention of her 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 242.) Bottled spider. 

A spider is called bottled, because, like other insects, 
he has a middle slender and a belly protuberant. 
Richard's form and venom make her liken him to 
a spider. 

ACT II. SCENE i. (n. i. 103.) 

Have I a tongue to doom my brother's death. 

This lamentation is very tender and pathetic. 
The recollection of the good qualities of the dead 
is very natural, and no less naturally does the king 
endeavour to communicate the crime to others. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 84.) But with his tim'rous dreams. 

'Tis recorded by Polydore Virgil, that Richard was 
frequently disturbed by terrible dreams : this is there- 
fore no fiction. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii. 94 foil.) 

The allusions to the plays of Henry VI. are no weak 
proofs of the authenticity of these disputed pieces. 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. iv. 199 foil.) Stay, Madam. 

On this dialogue [between Richard and the Queen] 
'tis not necessary to bestow much criticism : part of 
it is ridiculous, and the whole improbable. 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 178 foil.) Give me another horse. 
There is in this, as in many of our authour's speeches 



of passion, something very trifling, and something very 
striking. Richard's debate, whether he should quarrel 
with himself, is too long continued, but the subsequent 
exaggeration of his crimes is truly tragical. 

This is one of the most celebrated of our authour's 
performances ; yet I know not whether it has not 
happened to him as to others, to be praised most when 
praise is not most deserved. That this play has scenes 
noble in themselves, and very well contrived to strike 
in the exhibition, cannot be denied. But some parts 
are trifling, others shocking, and some improbable. 



This is not the only passage in which Shakespeare 
has discovered his conviction of the impropriety of 
battles represented on the stage. He knew that five 
or six men with swords give a very unsatisfactory idea 
of an army, and therefore, without much care to 
excuse his former practice, he allows that a theatrical 
fight would destroy all opinion of truth, and leave him 
never an understanding friend. Magnis ingeniis et 
multa nihilominus habituris simplex convenit erroris 
confessio. Yet I know not whether the coronation 
shewn in this play may not be liable to all that can be 
objected against a battle. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 15-16.) 

Till this time Pomp was single, but now marry* d 
To one above itself. 

Dr. Warburton has here discovered more beauty 
than the authour intended, who meant only to say in 
a noisy periphrase, that pomp was encreased on this 


occasion to more than twice as much as it had ever been 
before. Pomp is no more married to the English than 
to the French king, for to neither is any preference 
given by the speaker. Pomp is only married to pomp, 
but the new pomp is greater than the old. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 122-3.) 

A beggar's book 
Out-worths a noble's blood. 

That is, the literary qualifications of a bookish beggar 
are more prized than the high descent of hereditary 
greatness. This is a contemptuous exclamation very 
naturally put into the mouth of one of the antient, 
unlettered, martial nobility. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 1-2.) 

KING. My life itself, and the best heart of it, 

Thanks you for this great care. 

The expression is monstrous. The heart is supposed the seat 
of life : But, as if he had many lives, and to each of them, a heart, 
he says, his best heart. A way of speaking that would have 
become a cat rather than a King. WARBURTON. 

This expression is not more monstrous than many 
others. Heart is not here taken for the great organ 
of circulation and life, but, in a common and popular 
sense, for the most valuable or precious part. Our 
authour, in Hamlet, mentions the heart of heart. 
Exhausted and effete ground is said by the farmer to 
be out of heart. The hard and inner part of the oak 
is called heart of oak. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 32.) The many to them 'longing. 

The many is the meiny, the train, the people. 
Dryden is, perhaps, the last that used this word. 

The Kings before their many rode. 


ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. ii. 34-5.) 

Compell'd by hunger 
And lack of other means. 

Means does not signify methods of livelihood, for that was 
said immediately before unfit for other life; but it signifies, 
necessaries compelled, says the speaker, for want of bread and 
other necessaries. But the poet using, for the thing, [want of bread*} 
the effect of it, [hunger] the passage is become doubly obscure ; 
first, by using a term in a licentious sense, and then by putting it 
to a vicious construction. The not apprehending that this is one 
of the distinguishing peculiarities in Shakespear's stile, has been 
the occasion of so much ridiculous correction of him. WAR- 

I have inserted this note rather because it seems to 
have been the writer's favourite, than because it is of 
much value. It explains what no reader has found 
difficult, and, I think, explains it wrong. 

ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 103.) 

Cardinal sins, and hollow hearts, I fear you. 

The distress of Catharine might have kept her from 
the quibble to which she is irresistibly tempted by 
the word Cardinal. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 9-10.) 

They're ever forward 
In celebration of this day. 

Hanmer reads, these days, but Shakespeare meant 
such a day as this, a coronation day. And such is the 
English idiom, which our authour commonly prefers 
to grammatical nicety. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii.) 

Enter Catherine Dowager, sick, led between Griffith her gentle- 
man usher, and Patience her woman. 

This scene is, above any other part of Shakespeare's 
tragedies, and perhaps above any scene of any other 
poet, tender and pathetick, without gods, or furies, or 


poisons, or precipices, without the help of romantick 
circumstances, without improbable sallies of poetical 
lamentation, and without any throes of tumultuous 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 10-12.) 

We are all men 

In our own natures frail, and capable 
Of jrailty. 

This sentence I think needed no commentary. The 
meaning, and the plain meaning, is, we are men frail 
by nature, and therefore liable to acts of frailty, to 
deviations from the right. I wish every commentator, 
before he suffers his confidence to kindle, would repeat, 

We are all men 

In our own natures frail, and capable 

Of frailty ; few are angels. 

ACT V. SCENE vii. (v. iv. 23.) Sir Guy, nor Colebrand. 

Of Guy of Warwick every one has heard. Colebrand 
was the Danish giant whom Guy subdued at Winchester. 
Their combat is very elaborately described by Drayton 
in his Polyolbion. 

ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. v. 40-56.) 

Nor shall this peace sleep with her, &c. 

These lines, to the interruption by the King, seem 
to have been inserted at some revisal of the play after 
the accession of King James. If the passage, included 
in crochets, be left out, the speech of Cranmer pro- 
ceeds in a regular tenour of prediction and continuity 
of sentiments ; but by the interposition of the new 
lines, he first celebrates Elizabeth's successor, and then 
wishes he did not know that she was to die ; first 
rejoices at the consequence, and then laments the 
cause. Our authour was at once politick and idle ; 


he resolved to flatter James, but neglected to reduce 
the whole speech to propriety, or perhaps intended 
that the lines inserted should be spoken in the action, 
and omitted in the publication, if any publication 
ever was in his thoughts. Mr. Theobald has made the 
same observation. 

The play of Henry the eighth is one of those which 
still keeps possession of the stage, by the splendour of 
its pageantry. The coronation about forty years ago 
drew the people together in multitudes for a great 
part of the winter. Yet pomp is not the only merit 
of this play. The meek sorrows and virtuous distress 
of Catherine have furnished some scenes which may 
be justly numbered among the greatest efforts of 
tragedy. But the genius of Shakespeare comes in and 
goes out with Catherine. Every other part may be 
easily conceived, and easily written. 

Though it is very difficult to decide whether short 
pieces be genuine or spurious, yet I cannot restrain 
myself from expressing my suspicion that neither the 
prologue nor epilogue to this play is the work of 
Shakespeare ; non vultus, non color. It appears to me 
very likely that they were supplied by the friendship 
or officiousness of Johnson, whose manner they will be 
perhaps found exactly to resemble. There is yet 
another supposition possible : the prologue and epi- 
logue may have been written after Shakespeare's depar- 
ture from the stage, upon some accidental revisal of 
the play, and there will then be reason for imagining 
that the writer, whoever he was, intended no great 
kindness to him, this play being recommended by 
a subtle and covert censure of his other works. There 
is in Shakespeare so much of fool and fight, 

the fellow 

In a long motley coat, guarded with yellow, 


appears so often in his drama, that I think it not very 
likely that he would have animadverted so severely on 
himself. All this, however, must be received as very 
dubious, since we know not the exact date of this or 
the other plays, and cannot tell how our authour 
might have changed his practice or opinions. 

The historical Dramas are now concluded, of which 
the two parts of Henry the Fourth, and Henry the 
Fifth, are among the happiest of our authour's com- 
positions ; and King John, Richard the Third, and 
Henry the Eighth, deservedly stand in the second 
class. Those whose curiosity would refer the historical 
scenes to their original, may consult Hollingshead, and 
sometimes Hall : from Hollingshead Shakespeare has 
often inserted whole speeches with no more alteration 
than was necessary to the numbers of his verse. To 
transcribe them into the margin was unnecessary, 
because the original is easily examined, and they are 
seldom less perspicuous in the poet than in the his- 

To play histories, or to exhibit a succession of events 
by action and dialogue, was a common entertainment 
among our rude ancestors upon great festivities. The 
parish clerks once performed at Clerkenwell a play 
which lasted three days, containing, The History of 
the World. 



ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 3-4.) In the division of the kingdom. 

There is something of obscurity or inaccuracy in this 
preparatory scene. The King has already divided his 
kingdom, and yet when he enters he examines his 
daughters, to discover in what proportions he should 
divide it. Perhaps Kent and Gloucester only were privy 
to his design, which he still kept in his own hands, to 
be changed or performed as subsequent reasons should 
determine him. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 149 foil.) 

Think'st thou, that duty shall have dread to speak, &c. 

I have given this passage according to the old folio 
from which the modern editions have silently departed, 
for the sake of better numbers, with a degree of 
insincerity, which, if not sometimes detected and 
censured, must impair the credit of antient books. 
One of the editors, and perhaps only one, knew how 
much mischief may be done by such clandestine 

The quarto agrees with the folio, except that for 
reserve thy state, it gives, reverse thy doom, and has 
stoops instead of falls to jolly. 

The meaning of answer my life my judgment is, Let 
my life be answerable for my judgment, or / will stake 
my life on my opinion. 

The reading which, without any right, has possessed 
all the modern copies is this, 

to plainness Honour 

Is bound, when Majesty to folly falls. 
Reserve thy state ; with better judgment check 
This hideous rashness , with my life I answer, 
Thy youngest daughter, &c. 


I am inclined to think that reverse thy doom was 
Shakespeare's first reading, as more apposite to the 
present occasion, and that he changed it afterwards to 
reserve thy state, which conduces more to the progress 
of the action. 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 174-5.) 

Which nor our nature, nor our place can bear? 
Our potency made good. 

Lear, who is characterized as hot, heady and violent, 
is, with very just observation of life, made to entangle 
himself with vows, upon any sudden provocation to 
vow revenge, and then to plead the obligation of 
a vow in defence of implacability. 

ACT I SCENE ii. (i. i. 181.) By Jupiter. 

Shakespeare makes his Lear too much a mythologist : 
he had Hecate and Apollo before. 

ACT I. SCENE viii. (i. ii. 132 foil.) 

EDMUND. This is the excellent foppery of the world, &c. 

In Shakespeare's best plays, besides the vices that 
arise from the subject, there is generally some peculiar 
prevailing folly, principally ridiculed, that runs thro' 
the whole piece. Thus, in the Tempest, the lying 
disposition of travellers, and in As you like it, the 
fantastick humour of courtiers, is exposed and satirised 
with infinite pleasantry. In like manner, in his play 
of Lear, the dotages of judicial astrology are severely 
ridiculed. I fancy, was the date of its first performance 
well considered, it would be found that something or 
other happened at that time which gave a more than 
ordinary run to this deceit, as these words seem to 
intimate, / am thinking, brother, of a prediction I read 
this other day, what should follow these eclipses. How- 
ever this be, an impious cheat, which had so little 


foundation in nature or reason, so detestable and 
original, and such fatal consequences on the manners 
of the people, who were at that time strangely besotted 
with it, certainly deserved the severest lash of satire. 
It was a fundamental in this noble science, that what- 
ever seeds of good dispositions the infant unborn 
might be endowed with, either from nature, or 
traductively from its parents, yet if, at the time of 
its birth, the delivery was by any casualty so accelerated 
or retarded, as to fall in with the predominancy of 
a malignant constellation, that momentary influence 
would entirely change its nature, and bias it to all the 
contrary ill qualities. So wretched and monstrous an 
opinion did it set out with. But the Italians, to whom 
we owe this, as well as most other unnatural crimes and 
follies of these latter ages, fomented its original impiety 
to the most detestable height of extravagance. Petrus 
Aponensis, an Italian physician of the Xlllth century, 
assures us that those prayers which are made to God 
when the moon is in conjunction with Jupiter in the 
Dragon's tail, are infallibly heard. The great Milton 
with a just indignation of this impiety, hath, in his 
Paradise Regained, satirized it in a very beautiful 
manner, by putting these reveries into the mouth of 
the Devil. Nor could the licentious Rabelais himself 
forbear to ridicule this impious dotage, which he does 
with exquisite address and humour, where, in the fable 
which he so agreeably tells from sop, of the man who 
applied to Jupiter for the loss of his hatchet, he makes 
those, who, on the poor man's good success, had 
projected to trick Jupiter by the same petition, a kind 
of astrologick atheists, who ascribed this good fortune, 
that they imagined they were now all going to partake 
of, to the influence of some rare conjunction and con- 
figuration of the stars. Hen, hen, disent Us Et 
doncques, telle est au temps present la revolution des Cieulx, 


la constellation des Astres, ff aspect des Planetes, que 
quiconque Coigneeperdra, soubdain deviendra ainsi riche? 

Nou. Prol. du IV. Livre. 

But to return to Shakespear. So blasphemous a 
delusion, therefore, it became the honesty of our poet 
to expose. But it was a tender point, and required 
managing. For this impious juggle had in his time 
a kind of religious reverence paid to it. It was there- 
fore to be done obliquely ; and the circumstances of 
the scene furnished him with as good an opportunity 
as he could wish. The persons in the drama are all 
pagans, so that as, in compliance to custom, his good 
characters were not to speak ill of judicial Astrology, 
they could on account of their religion give no repu- 
tation to it. But in order to expose it the more, he, 
with great judgment, makes these pagans Fatalists ; as 
appears by these words of Lear, 

By all the operations of the orbs, 
From whom we do exist and cease to be. 

For the doctrine of fate is the true foundation of 
judicial Astrology. Having thus discredited it by the 
very commendations given to it, he was in no danger 
of having his direct satire against it mistaken, by its 
being put (as he was obliged, both in paying regard 
to custom, and in following nature) into the mouth 
of the villain and atheist, especially when he has added 
such force of reason to his ridicule, in the words 
referred to in the beginning of the note. 

ACT III. SCENE ix. (in. vi. 20-1.) 

His mad that trusts in the tameness of a wolf, a horse's health, &c. 

Shakespeare is here speaking not of things maliciously 
treacherous, but of things uncertain and not durable. 
A horse is above all other animals subject to diseases. 


ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 68-9.) 

Let the superfluous and lust-dieted man, 
That slaves your ordinance. 

The language of Shakespeare is very licentious, and 
his words have often meanings remote from the proper 
and original use. To slave or be slave another is to 
treat him with terms of indignity ; in a kindred sense, 
to slave the ordinance, may be, to slight or ridicule it. 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. v. 22.) 

REGAN. Let me unseal the letter. 

I know not well why Shakespeare gives the Steward, 
who is a mere factor of wickedness, so much fidelity. 
He now refuses the letter, and afterwards, when he is 
dying, thinks only how it may be safely delivered. 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi.) Enter Glo'ster and Edgar. 

This scene and the stratagem by which Glossier is 
cured of his desperation, are wholly borrowed from 
Sidney's Arcadia. 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 12 foil.) 

How fearful \ 
And dizzy 'tis, to cast one's eyes so low ! J 

This description has been much admired since the 
time of Addison, who has remarked, with a poor attempt 
at pleasantry, that he who can read it without being 
giddy has a very good head, or a very bad one. The 
description is certainly not mean, but I am far from 
thinking it wrought to the utmost excellence of poetry. 
He that looks from a precipice finds himself assailed 
by one great and dreadful image of irresistible destruc- 
tion. But this overwhelming idea is dissipated and 
enfeebled from the instant that the mind can restore 
itself to the observation of particulars, and diffuse its 


attention to distinct objects. The enumeration of the 
choughs and crows, the samphire-man and the fishers, 
counteracts the great effect of the prospect, as it peoples 
the desert of intermediate vacuity, and stops the mind 
in the rapidity of its descent through emptiness and 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 81.) 

Bear free and patient thoughts. 

To be melancholy is to have the mind chained down 
to one painful idea, there is therefore great propriety 
in exhorting Glo'ster to free thoughts, to an emancipation 
of his soul from grief and despair. 
ACT IV. SCENE vii. (iv. vi. 8-9.) 

That fellow handles his Bow like a Crow-keeper. 

This crow-keener was so common in the authour's 
time, that it is one of the few peculiarities mentioned 
by Ortelius in his account of our island. 

ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. iii. 168.) 

EDGAR. Let's exchange charity. 

Our authour by negligence gives his heathens the 
sentiments and practices of Christianity. In Hamlet 
there is the same solemn act of final reconciliation, 
but with exact propriety, for the personages are 

Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet, &c. 

The Tragedy of Lear is deservedly celebrated among 
the dramas of Shakespeare. There is perhaps no play 
which keeps the attention so strongly fixed ; which so 
much agitates our passions and interests our curiosity. 
The artful involutions of distinct interests, the striking 
opposition of contrary characters, the sudden changes 
of fortune, and the quick succession of events, fill the 
mind with a perpetual tumult of indignation, pity, and 


hope. There is no scene which does not contribute 
to the aggravation of the distress or conduct of the 
action, and scarce a line which does not conduce to 
the progress of the scene. So powerful is the current 
of the poet's imagination, that the mind, which once 
ventures within it, is hurried irresistibly along. 

On the seeming improbability of Lear's conduct it 
may be observed, that he is represented according to 
histories at that time vulgarly received as true. And 
perhaps if we turn our thoughts upon the barbarity 
and ignorance of the age to which this story is referred, 
it will appear not so unlikely as while we estimate Lear's 
manners by our own. Such preference of one daughter 
to another, or resignation of dominion on such con- 
ditions, would be yet credible, if told of a petty prince 
of Guinea or Madagascar. Shakespeare, indeed, by the 
mention of his Earls and Dukes, has given us the idea 
of times more civilised, and of life regulated by softer 
manners ; and the truth is, that though he so nicely 
discriminates, and so minutely describes the characters 
of men, he commonly neglects and confounds the 
characters of ages, by mingling customs ancient and 
modern, English and foreign. 

My learned friend Mr. Warton, who has in the 
Adventurer very minutely criticised this play, remarks, 
that the instances of cruelty are too savage and shock- 
ing, and that the intervention of Edmund, destroys the 
simplicity of the story. These objections may, I think, 
be answered, by repeating, that the cruelty of the 
daughters is an historical fact, to which the poet has 
added little, having only drawn it into a series by 
dialogue and action. But I am not able to apologize 
with equal plausibility for the extrusion of Gloucester's 
eyes, which seems an act too horrid to be endured in 
djamatick exhibition, and such as must always compel 
the mind to relieve its distress by incredulity. Yet 


let it be remembered that our authour well knew what 
would please the audience for which he wrote. 

The injury done by Edmund to the simplicity of the 
action is abundantly recompensed by the addition of 
variety, by the art with which he is made to co-operate 
with the chief design, and the opportunity which he 
gives the poet of combining perfidy with perfidy, and 
connecting the wicked son with the wicked daughters, 
to impress this important moral, that villany is never 
at a stop, that crimes lead to crimes, and at last termi- 
nate in ruin. 

But though this moral be incidentally enforced, 
Shakespeare has suffered the virtue of Cordelia to perish 
in a just cause, contrary to the natural ideas of justice, 
to the hope of the reader, and, what is yet more strange, 
to the faith of chronicles. Yet this conduct is justified 
by the Spectator, who blames late for giving Cordelia 
success and happiness in his alteration, and declares, 
that, in his opinion, the tragedy has lost half its beauty. 
Dennis has remarked, whether justly or not, that, to 
secure the favourable reception of Cato, the town was 
poisoned with much false and abominable criticism, and 
that endeavours had been used to discredit and decry 
poetical justice. A play in which the wicked prosper, 
and the virtuous miscarry, may doubtless be good, 
because it is a just representation of the common events 
of human life : but since all reasonable beings naturally 
love justice, I cannot easily be persuaded, that the 
observation of justice makes a play worse ; or, that if 
other excellencies are equal, the audience will not 
always rise better pleased from the final triumph of 
persecuted virtue. 

In the present case the publick has decided. Cordelia, 
from the time of Tate, has always retired with victory 
and felicity. And, if my sensations could add any 
thing to the general suffrage, I might relate, that I was 



many years ago shocked by Cordelia's death, that 
I know not whether I ever endured to read again the 
last scenes of the play till I undertook to revise them 
as an editor. 

There is another controversy among the criticks 
concerning this play. It is disputed whether the 
predominant image in Lear's disordered mind be the 
loss of his kingdom or the cruelty of his daughters. 
Mr. Murphy > a very judicious critick, has evinced by 
induction of particular passages, that the cruelty of his 
daughters is the primary source of his distress, and that 
the loss of royalty affects him only as a secondary and 
subordinate evil ; He observes with great justness, 
that Lear would move our compassion but little, did 
we not rather consider the injured father than the 
degraded king. 

The story of this play, except the episode of Edmund, 
which is derived, I think, from Sidney, is taken originally 
from Geoffry of Monmoutb, whom Hollingshead gene- 
rally copied ; but perhaps immediately from an old 
historical ballad, of which I shall insert the greater part. 
My reason for believing that the play was posteriour 
to the ballad rather than the ballad to the play, is, that 
the ballad has nothing of Shakespeare's nocturnal tem- 
pest, which is too striking to have been omitted, and 
that it follows the chronicle ; it has the rudiments of 
the play, but none of its amplifications : it first hinted 
Lear's madness, but did not array it in circumstances. 
The writer of the ballad added something to the 
history, which is a proof that he would have added 
more, if more had occurred to his mind, and more must 
have occurred if he had seen Shakespeare. 

i6 3 


ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 21 foil.) Our Poesy is as a Gum, &c. 

This speech of the poet is very obscure. He seems 
to boast the copiousness and facility of his vein, by 
declaring that verses drop from a poet as gums from 
odoriferous trees, and that his flame kindles itself 
without the violence necessary to elicite sparkles from 
the flint. What follows next? that it, like a current , 
flies each bound it chafes. This may mean, that it 
expands itself notwithstanding all obstructions : but 
the images in the comparison are so ill sorted, and the 
effect so obscurely expressed, that I cannot but think 
something omitted that connected the last sentence 
with the former. It is well known that the players 
often shorten speeches to quicken the representation ; 
and it may be suspected, that they sometimes per- 
formed their amputations with more haste than 

ACT I. SCENE ii. (1.1.108-9.) 

'Tis not enough to help the feeble up, 
But to support him after. 

This thought is better expressed by Dr. Madden in 
his elegy on Archbishop Boulter. 

He thought it mean 

Only to help the poor to beg again. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. iii. 33-4.) 

Those that under hot, ardent, zeal would set whole Realms on fire. 

This is a reflection on the Puritans of that time. 
These people were then set upon a project of new- 
modelling the ecclesiastical and civil government 
according to scripture rules and examples. Which 

M 2 


makes him say, that under zeal for the word of God, 
they would set whole realms on fire. 

ACT III. SCENE iv. (in. iv. 67.) Enter Servilius. 

It may be observed that Shakespeare has unskilfully 
filled his Greek story with Roman names. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. ii.) Enter Flavius. 

Nothing contributes more to the exaltation of 
Timon's character than the zeal and fidelity of his 
servants. Nothing but real virtue can be honoured 
by domesticks ; nothing but impartial kindness can 
gain affection from dependants. 


I cannot concur to censure Theobald as a critick 
very unhappy. He was weak, but he was cautious : 
finding but little power in his mind, he rarely ventured 
far under its conduct. This timidity hindered him 
from daring conjectures, and sometimes hindered him 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. iii. 253 foil.) Hadst tbou, like us. 

There is in this speech a sullen haughtiness, and 
malignant dignity, suitable at once to the lord and the 
manhater. The impatience with which he bears to 
have his luxury reproached by one that never had 
luxury within his reach, is natural and graceful. ~ 

There is in a letter written by the earl of Essex , just 
before his execution, to another nobleman, a passage 
somewhat resembling this, with which I believe every 
reader will be pleased, though it is so serious and 
solemn that it can scarcely be inserted without 

*" " God grant your lordship may quickly feel the com- 
fort I now enjoy in my unfeigned conversion, but that 
you may never feel the torments I have suffered for 


my long delaying it. / had none but deceivers to call 
upon me, to whom I said, if my ambition could have 
entered into their narrow breasts, they would not have 
been so humble ; or if my delights had been once tasted 
by them, they would not have been so precise. But your 
lordship hath one to call upon you, that knoweth what it 
is you now enjoy ; and what the greatest fruit and end is 
of all contentment that this world can afford. Think 
therefore, dear earl, that I have staked and buoyed all 
the ways of pleasure unto you, and left them as sea- 
marks for you to keep the channel of religious virtue. 
For shut your eyes never so long, they must be open at 
the last, and then you must say with me, there is no 
peace to the ungodly" 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. iii. 276-7.) 

// tbou badst not been born the worst of men, 
Thou badst been knave and flatterer. 

Dryden has quoted two verses of Virgil to shew how 
well he could have written satires. Shakespeare has 
here given a specimen of the same power by a line 
bitter beyond all bitterness, in which Timon tells 
Apemantus, that he had not virtue enough for the 
vices which he condemns. 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 6.) 

There is something elaborately unskilful in the 
contrivance of sending a soldier, who cannot read, to 
take the epitaph in wax, only that it may close the 
play by being read with more solemnity in the last 

The play of Timon is a domestick Tragedy, and 
therefore strongly fastens on the attention of the 
reader. In the plan there is not much art, but the 
incidents are natural, and the characters various and 
exact. The catastrophe affords a very powerful warn- 


ing against that ostentatious liberality, which scatters 
bounty, but confers no benefits, and buys flattery, but 
not friendship. 

In this Tragedy are many passages perplexed, 
obscure, and probably corrupt, which I have endea- 
voured to rectify or explain with due diligence ; but 
having only one copy, cannot promise myself that my 
endeavours will be much applauded. 


All the editors and criticks agree with Mr. Theobald 
in supposing this play spurious. I see no reason for 
differing from them ; for the colour of the stile is 
wholly different from that of the other plays, and there 
is an attempt at regular versification, and artificial 
closes, not always inelegant, yet seldom pleasing. The 
barbarity of the spectacles, and the general massacre 
which are here exhibited, can scarcely be conceived 
tolerable to any audience ; yet we are told by John- 
son, that they were not only born but praised. That 
Shakespeare wrote any part, though Theobald declares 
it incontestable, I see no reason for believing. 

The chronology of this play does not prove it not to 
be Shakespeare's. If it had been written twenty-five 
years, in 1614, it might have been written when 
Shakespeare was twenty-five years old. When he left 
Warwickshire I know not, but at the age of twenty-five 
it was rather too late to fly for deer-stealing. 

Ravenscroft, who, in the reign of Charles II. revised 
this play, and restored it to the stage, tells us in his 
preface, from a theatrical tradition I suppose, which 
in his time might be of sufficient authority, that this 
play was touched in different parts by Shakespeare, but 
written by some other poet. I do not find Shake- 
speare's touches very discernible. 

1 6 7 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i.) Enter three Witches. 

In order to make a true estimate of the abilities and 
merit of a writer, it is always necessary to examine the 
genius of his age, and the opinions of his contempo- 
raries. A poet who should now make the whole action 
of his tragedy depend upon enchantment, and produce 
the chief events by the assistance of supernatural 
agents, would be censured as transgressing the bounds 
of probability, be banished from the Theatre to the 
nursery, and condemned to write fairy tales instead of 
tragedies ; but a survey of the notions that prevailed 
at the time when this play was written, will prove that 
Shakespeare was in no danger of such censures, since 
he only turned the system that was then universally 
admitted to his advantage, and was far from over- 
burthening the credulity of his audience. 

The reality of witchcraft or enchantment, which, 
though not strictly the same, are confounded in this 
play, has in all ages and countries been credited by 
the common people, and in most by the learned them- 
selves. These phantoms have indeed appeared more 
frequently, in proportion as the darkness of ignorance 
has been more gross ; but it cannot be shown, that the 
brightest gleams of knowledge have at any time been 
sufficient to drive them out of the world. The time 
in which this kind of credulity was at its height, seems 
to have been that of the holy war, in which the 
Christians imputed all their defeats to enchantments 
or diabolical opposition, as they ascribed their success 
to the assistance of their military saints ; and the 
learned Dr. Warburton appears to believe (Suppl. to the 
Introduction to Don Quixote) that the first accounts 
of enchantments were brought into this part of the 
world by those who returned from their eastern 


expeditions. But there is always some distance be- 
tween the birth and maturity of folly as of wicked- 
ness : this opinion had long existed, though perhaps the 
application of it had in no foregoing age been so fre- 
quent, nor the reception so general. Olympiodorus, in 
Pbotius's extracts, tells us of one Libanius, who prac- 
tised this kind of military magic, and having promised 
Xcopis oTrXtrwi; Kara /3ap/3a/oo>i> evcpyew, to perform 
great things against the barbarians without soldiers, was, 
at the instances of the Emperess Placidia, put to Death, 
when he was about to have given proofs of his abilities. 
The Emperess shewed some kindness in her anger by 
cutting him off at a time so convenient for his reputation. 
But a more remarkable proof of the antiquity of 
this notion may be found in St. Chrysostom's book 
de Sacerdotio, which exhibits a scene of enchantments 
not exceeded by any romance of the middle age : he 
supposes a spectator overlooking a field of battle 
attended by one that points out all the various objects 
of horror, the engines of destruction, and the arts of 
slaughter. ACIKVVTO 8e In irapa rot? fvavriois KCU 
Trerojuerovs ITTTTOVS 8ia TWOS /xayyayeias, KCU oTrXtra? 8t' 
atpos fapontvovs, Kal Trd(rr)v yorjreias SiWjuuv /cat &lar 
Let him then proceed to show him in the opposite armies 
horses flying by enchantment, armed men transported 
through the air, and every power and form of magic. 
Whether St. Chrysostom believed that such perform- 
ances were really to be seen in a day of battle, or only 
endeavoured to enliven his description, by adopting 
the notions of the vulgar, it is equally certain, that such 
notions were in his time received, and that therefore 
they were not imported from the Saracens in a later 
age ; the wars with the Saracens however gave occasion 
to their propagation, not only as bigotry naturally 
discovers prodigies, but as the scene of action was 
removed to a great distance. 


The reformation did not immediately arrive at its 
meridian, and tho' day was gradually increasing upon 
us, the goblins of witchcraft still continued to hover 
in the twilight. In the time of Queen Elizabeth was 
the remarkable trial of the witches of Warbois, whose 
conviction is still commemorated in an annual sermon 
at Huntingdon. But in the reign of King James, in 
which this tragedy was written, many circumstances 
concurred to propagate and confirm this opinion. 
The King, who was much celebrated for his knowledge, 
had, before his arrival in England, not only examined 
in person a woman accused of witchcraft, but had given 
a very formal account of the practices and illusions of 
evil spirits, the compacts of witches, the ceremonies 
used by them, the manner of detecting them, and the 
justice of punishing them, in his Dialogues of Dtzmono- 
logie, written in the Scottish dialect, and published at 
Edinburgh. This book was, soon after his accession, 
reprinted at London, and as the ready way to gain 
King James's favour was to flatter his speculations, 
the system of Dczmonologie was immediately adopted 
by all who desired either to gain preferment or not to 
lose it. Thus the doctrine of witchcraft was very 
powerfully inculcated ; and as the greatest part of 
mankind have no other reason for their opinions than 
that they are in fashion, it cannot be doubted but this 
persuasion made a rapid progress, since vanity and 
credulity co-operated in its favour. The infection soon 
reached the parliament, who, in the first year of King 
James, made a law by which it was enacted, chap. xii. 
That " if any person shall use any invocation or con- 
juration of any evil or wicked spirit ; 2. or shall consult, 
covenant with, entertain, employ, feed or reward any 
evil or cursed spirit to or for any intent or purpose ; 
3. or take up any dead man, woman or child out of the 
grave, or the skin, bone, or any part of the dead 


person, to be employed or used in any manner of 
witchcraft, sorcery, charm, or enchantment ; 4. or 
shall use, practise or exercise any sort of witchcraft, 
sorcery, charm, or enchantment ; 5. whereby any 
person shall be destroyed, killed, wasted, consumed, 
pined, or lamed in any part of the body ; 6. That every 
such person being convicted shall suffer death." This 
law was repealed in our own time. 

Thus, in the time of Shakespeare, was the doctrine 
of witchcraft at once established by law and by the 
fashion, and it became not only unpolite, but criminal, 
to doubt it ; and as prodigies are always seen in pro- 
portion as they are expected, witches were every day 
discovered, and multiplied so fast in some places, that 
bishop Hall mentions a village in Lancashire, where 
their number was greater than that of the houses. 
The Jesuits and sectaries took advantage of this 
universal error, and endeavoured to promote the 
interest of their parties by pretended cures of persons 
afflicted by evil spirits ; but they were detected and 
exposed by the clergy of the established church. 

Upon this general infatuation Shakespeare might be 
easily allowed to found a play, especially since he has 
followed with great exactness such histories as were 
then thought true ; nor can it be doubted that the 
scenes of enchantment, however they may now be 
ridiculed, were both by himself and his audience 
thought awful and affecting. 

ACT I. SCENE x. (i. vii. 28 foil.) 

The arguments by which Lady Macbeth persuades 
her husband to commit the murder, afford a proof of 
Shakespeare's knowledge of human nature. She urges 
the excellence and dignity of courage, a glittering idea 
which has dazzled mankind from age to age, and 
animated sometimes the housebreaker, and sometimes 


the conqueror ; but this sophism Macbeth has for ever 
destroyed by distinguishing true from false fortitude, 
in a line and a half ; of which it may also be said, that 
they ought to bestow immortality on the author, 
though all his other productions had been lost. 
I dare do all that may become a man, 
Who dares do more, is none. 

This topic, which has been always employed with 
too much success, is used in this scene with peculiar 
propriety, to a soldier by a woman. Courage is the 
distinguishing virtue of a soldier, and the reproach of 
cowardice cannot be borne by any man from a woman, 
without great impatience. 

She then urges the oaths by which he had bound 
himself to murder Duncan, another art of sophistry by 
which men have sometimes deluded their consciences, 
and persuaded themselves that what would be criminal 
in others is virtuous in them ; this argument Shake- 
speare, whose plan obliged him to make Macbeth yield, 
has not confuted, though he might easily have shown 
that a former obligation could not be vacated by a latter : 
that obligations laid on us by a higher power, could not be 
overruled by obligations which we lay upon ourselves. 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (n. i. 49-50.) 

Now o'er one half the world 
Nature seems dead. 

That is, over our hemisphere all action and motion 
seem to have ceased. This image, which is perhaps 
the most striking that poetry can produce, has been 
adopted by Dryden in his Conquest of Mexico. 
All things are hustfd as Nature's self lay dead, 
The mountains seem to nod their drowsy head ; 
The little birds in dreams their songs repeat, 
And sleeping flow'rs beneath the night dews sweat. 
Even lust and envy sleep ! 


These lines, though so well known, I have transcribed, 
that the contrast between them and this passage of 
Shakespeare may be more accurately observed. 

Night is described by two great poets, but one 
describes a night of quiet, the other of perturbation. 
In the night of Dry den, all the disturbers of the world 
are laid asleep ; in that of Shakespeare, nothing but 
sorcery, lust and murder, is awake. He that reads 
Dry den, finds himself lulPdwith serenity, and disposed to 
solitude and contemplation. He that peruses Shakespeare, 
looks round alarmed, and starts to find himself alone. 
One is the night of a lover, the other, of a murderer. 

ACT II. SCENE v. (zi. iii. 118-21.) 

Here, lay Duncan ; 

His silver skin laced with his golden blood, 
And his gasb'd stabs look'd like a breach in nature 
For Ruin's wasteful entrance. 

Mr. Pope has endeavoured to improve one of these 
lines by substituting goary blood for golden blood ; but 
it may easily be admitted that he who could on such 
an occasion talk of lacing the silver skin, would lace it 
with golden blood. No amendment can be made to 
this line, of which every word is equally faulty, but 
by a general blot. 

It is not improbable, that Shakespeare put these 
forced and unnatural metaphors into the mouth of 
Macbeth as a mark of artifice and dissimulation, to 
show the difference between the studied language of 
hypocrisy, and the natural outcries of sudden passion. 
This whole speech so considered, is a remarkable 
instance of judgment, as it consists entirely of anti- 
thesis and metaphor. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 68-9.) 

Mine eternal jewel 
Giv'n to the common enemy of man, 

It is always an entertainment to an inquisitive 


reader, to trace a sentiment to its original source, and 
therefore though the term enemy of man, applied to the 
devil, is in itself natural and obvious, yet some may 
be pleased with being informed, that Shakespeare 
probably borrowed it from the first lines of the 
destruction of Troy, a book which he is known to have 

That this remark may not appear too trivial, I shall 
take occasion from it to point out a beautiful passage of 
Milton evidently copied from a book of no greater 
authority, in describing the gates of hell. Book 2. 
v. 879. he says, 

On a sudden open fly, 

With impetuous recoil and jarring sound, 
Th' infernal doors, and on their binges grate 
Harsh thunder. 

In the history of Don Bellianis, when one of the 
knights approaches, as I remember, the castle of 
Brandezar, the gates are said to open grating harsh 
thunder upon their brazen hinges. 

ACT IV. SCENE!, (iv. i.) 

As this is the chief scene of inchantment in the play, 
it is proper in this place to observe, with how much 
judgment Shakespeare has selected all the Circum- 
stances of his infernal ceremonies, and how exactly he 
has conformed to common opinions and traditions. 

Thrice the brinded cat hath meufd. 

The usual form in which familiar spirits are reported 
to converse with witches, is that of a cat. A witch, 
who was tried about half a century before the time of 
Shakespeare, had a cat named Rutterkin, as the spirit 
of one of those witches was Grimalkin ; and when 
any mischief was to be done she used to bid Rutterkin 


go and fly, but once when she would have sent Rutterkin 
to torment a daughter of the countess of Rutland, 
instead of going or flying, he only cried mew, from 
whence she discovered that the lady was out of his 
power, the power of witches not being universal, but 
limited, as Shakespeare has taken care to inculcate. 

Though his bark cannot be lost, 
Yet it shall be tempest tost. 

The common afflictions which the malice of witches 
produced were melancholy, fits, and loss of flesh, which 
are threatened by one of Shakespeare's witches. 

Weary sev'n-nights, nine times nine. 
Shall he dwindle, peak and pine. 

It was likewise their practice to destroy the cattle of 
their neighbours, and the farmers have to this day 
many ceremonies to secure their cows and other cattle 
from witchcraft ; but they seem to have been most 
suspected of malice against swine. Shakespeare has 
accordingly made one of his witches declare that she 
has been killing swine, and Dr. Harsenet observes, that 
about that time, a sow could not be ill of the measles, 
nor a girl of the sullens, but some old woman was charged 
with witchcraft. 

Toad, that under the cold stone, 
Days and nights has, thirty-one, 
Swelter* d venom sleeping got ; 
Boil thou first i'tb* charmed pot. 

Toads have likewise long lain under the reproach of 
being by some means accessary to witchcraft, for which 
reason Shakespeare, in the first scene of this play, calls 
one of the spirits Padocke or Toad, and now takes care 
to put a toad first into the pot. When Faninus was 
seized at Tholouse, there was found at his lodgings ingens 


Bufo Vitro inclusus, a great Toad shut in a Vial, upon 
which those that prosecuted him Feneficium exprobra- 
bant, charged him, I suppose, with witchcraft. 

Fillet of a fenny snake, 
In the cauldron boil and bake ; 
Eye of newt, and toe of frog ; 
For a charm, &c. 

The propriety of these ingredients may be known by 
consulting the books de Firibus Animalium and de 
Mirabilibus Mundi, ascribed to Albertus Magnus, in 
which the reader, who has time and credulity, may 
discover wonderful secrets. 

Finger of birth- strangled babes, 
Ditch-deliver' d by a drab ; 

It has been already mentioned in the law against 
witches, that they are supposed to take up dead bodies 
to use in enchantments, which was confessed by the 
woman whom King James examined, and who had 
of a dead body that was divided in one of their assem- 
blies, two fingers for her share. It is observable that 
Shakespeare, on this great occasion, which involves the 
fate of a king, multiplies all the circumstances of 
horror. The babe, whose finger is used, must be 
strangled in its birth ; the grease must not only be 
human, but must have dropped from a gibbet, the 
gibbet of a murderer ; and even the sow, whose blood 
is used, must have offended nature by devouring her 
own farrow. These are touches of judgment and 

And now about the cauldron sing 

Black spirits and white. 
Blue spirits and grey, 

Mingle, mingle, mingle, 
You that mingle may. 


And in a former part, 

weyzvard sisters, hand in hand, 

Thus do go about, about, 
Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, 
And thrice again to make up nine ! 
These two passages I have brought together, because 
they both seem subject to the objection of too much 
levity for the solemnity of enchantment, and may 
both be shown, by one quotation from Camden's 
account of Ireland, to be founded upon a practice 
really observed by the uncivilised natives of that 
country. " When any one gets a fall, says the informer 
of Camden, he starts up, and turning three times to the 
right digs a hole in the earth ; for they imagine that 
there is a spirit in the ground, and if he falls sick in 
two or three days, they send one of their women that is 
skilled in that way to the place, where she says, I call 
thee from the east, west, north and south, from the 
groves, the woods, the rivers, and the fens, from the 
fairies red, black, white" There was likewise a book 
written before the time of Shakespeare, describing, 
amongst other properties, the colours of spirits. 

Many other circumstances might be particularised, 
in which Shakespeare has shown his judgment and his 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iii. 8.) English Epicures. 

The reproach of epicurism, on which Mr. Theobald 
has bestowed a note, is nothing more than a natural 
invective uttered by an inhabitant of a barren country, 
against those who have more opportunities of luxury. 

ACT V. SCENE viii. (v. vii. 77-9.) 

Had I as many sons as 1 have hairs, 
I would not wish them to a fairer death. 
And so his knell is knoll* d. 

This incident is thus related from Henry of Hunting- 


don by Camden in his Remains, from which the authour 
probably copied it. 

When Seyivard, the martial earl of Northumberland, 
understood that his son, whom he had sent in service 
against the Scotchmen, was slain, he demanded whether 
his wounds were in the fore part or hinder part of his 
body. When it was answered, in the fore part, he 
replied, " I am right glad ; neither wish I any other 
death to me or mine." 

This play is deservedly celebrated for the propriety 
of its fictions, and solemnity, grandeur, and variety of 
its action ; but it has no nice discriminations of 
character, the events are too great to admit the 
influence of particular dispositions, and the course of the 
action necessarily determines the conduct of the agents. 

The danger of ambition is well described ; and I 
know not whether it may not be said in defence of 
some parts which now seem improbable, that, in 
Shakespeare's time, it was necessary to warn credulity 
against vain and illusive predictions. 

The passions are directed to their true end. Lady 
Macbeth is merely detested ; and though the courage 
of Macbeth preserves some esteem, yet every reader 
rejoices at his fall. 


ACT III. SCENE vi. (in. Hi. 125 foil.) 

Have the power still 

To banish your Defenders, 'till at length, 
Tour ignorance, which finds not, 'till it feels, &c. 

Still retain the power of banishing your defenders, 'till 
your undiscerning folly, which can foresee no conse- 
quences, leave none in the city but yourselves, who 
are always labouring your own destruction. 



It is remarkable, that, among the political maxims 
of the speculative Harrington, there is one which he 
might have borrowed from this speech. The people, 
says he, cannot see, but they can feel It is not much to 
the honour of the people, that they have the same 
character of stupidity from their enemy and their 
friend. Such was the power of our authour's mind, 
that he looked through life in all its relations private 
and civil. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 7-9.) 

Fortunes blows, 

When most struck home, being gentle, wounded, craves 
A noble cunning. 

The sense is, When fortune strikes her hardest blows, 
to be wounded, and yet continue calm, requires a gene- 
rous policy. He calls this calmness cunning, because 
it is the effect of reflection and philosophy. Perhaps 
the first emotions of nature are nearly uniform, and 
one man differs from another in the power of en- 
durance, as he is better regulated by precept and 

They bore as heroes, but they felt as man. 

ACT IV. SCENE vi. (iv. vi. 99.) The breath of garlick eaters. 

To smell of garlick was once such a brand of vulgarity, 
that garlick was a food forbidden to an ancient order 
of Spanish knights, mentioned by Guevara. 

ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. vii. 51-3.) 

And Power, unto itself most commendable, 
Hath not a tomb so evident, as a chair 
T extol what it hath done. 

This is a common thought, but miserably ill- 
expressed. The sense is, the virtue which delights to 
commend itself, will find the surest Tomb in that Chair 
wherein it holds forth its own commendations. 


The Tragedy of Coriolanus is one of the most 
amusing of our authour's performances. The old 
man's merriment in Menenius ; the lofty lady's 
dignity in Volumnia ; the bridal modesty in Virgilia ; 
the patrician and military haughtiness in Coriolanus ; 
the plebeian malignity and tribunition insolence in 
Brutus and Sicinius, make a very pleasing and in- 
teresting variety : and the various revolutions of the 
hero's fortune fill the mind with anxious curiosity. 
There is, perhaps too much bustle in the first act, 
and too little in the last. 


Of this tragedy many particular passages deserve 
regard, and the contention and reconcilement of 
Brutus and Cassius is universally celebrated ; but 
I have never been strongly agitated in perusing it, 
and think it somewhat cold and unaffecting, com- 
pared with some other of Shakespeare's plays ; his 
adherence to the real story, and to Roman manners, 
seems to have impeded the natural vigour of his 


ACT III. SCENE x. (HI. xi. 126-8.) 

that I were 

Upon the bill of Basan, to out-roar 
The horned herd. 

It is not without pity and indignation that the 
reader of this great Poet meets so often with this low 
jest, which is too much a favourite to be left out of 
either mirth or fury. 

N 2 


ACT IV. SCENE viii. (iv. ix. 15-16.) 

Throw my heart 
Against the flint and hardness of my fault. 

The pathetick of Shakespeare too often ends in the 
ridiculous. It is painful to find the gloomy dignity 
of this noble scene destroyed by the intrusion of 
a conceit so far-fetched and unaffecting. 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 242.) The pretty worm of Nilus. 

Worm is the Teutonick word for serpent ; we have 
the blind worm and slow worm still in our language, and 
the Norwegians call an enormous monster, seen some- 
times in the Northern ocean, the Sea-worm. 

THIS Play keeps curiosity always busy, and the 
passions always interested. The continual hurry of the 
action, the variety of incidents, and the quick succession 
of one personage to another, call the mind forward 
without intermission from the first Act to the last. 
But the power of delighting is derived principally 
from the frequent changes of the scene ; for, except 
the feminine arts, some of which are too low, which 
distinguish Cleopatra, no character is very strongly 
discriminated. Upton, who did not easily miss what. he 
desired to find, has discovered that the language of 
Antony is, with great skill and learning, made pompous 
and superb, according to his real practice. But I think 
his diction not distinguishable from that of others : the 
most tumid speech in the Play is that which Gcesar 
makes to Octavia. 

The events, of which the principal are described 
according to history, are produced without any art of 
connection or care of disposition. 


ACT I. SCENE vii. (i. v. 18-24.) 

QUEEN. / will try the forces 

Of these thy compounds on such creatures as 

We count not worth the hanging, but none human, . . 

CORNELIUS. Tour Highness 

Shall from this practice but make hard your heart. 

There is in this passage nothing that much requires 
a note, yet I cannot forbear to push it forward into 
observation. The thought would probably have been 
more amplified, had our authour lived to be shocked 
with such experiments as have been published in later 
times, by a race of men that have practised tortures 
without pity, and related them without shame, and 
are yet suffered to erect their heads among human 

Cape saxa manu, cape robora, pastor. 

ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. iii; 118-20.) 

CLOTEN. The contract you pretend with that base wretch . . . 
. . . . . it is no contract, none. 

Here Shakespeare has not preserved, with his common 
nicety, the uniformity of character. The speech of 
Cloten is rough and harsh, but certainly not the talk 
of one, 

Who carft take two from twenty, for his heart, 

And leave eighteen. 

His argument is just and well enforced, and its preva- 
lence is allowed throughout all civil nations : As for 
rudeness, he seems not to be much undermatched. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. iii. 35-6.) 

ARVIRAGUS. What should we speak of 

When we are old as you ? 

This dread of an old age, unsupplied with matter 


for discourse and meditation, is a sentiment natural 
and noble. No state can be more destitute than that 
of him who, when the delights of sense forsake him, 
has no pleasures of the mind. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (m. Hi. 101.) / stole these babes ; 

Shakespeare seems to intend Belarius for a good 
character, yet he makes him forget the injury which 
he has done to the young princes, whom he has robbed 
of a kingdom only to rob their father of heirs. 

The latter part of this soliloquy is very inartificial, 
there being no particular reason why Belarius should 
now tell to himself what he could not know better by 
telling it. 

ACT IV. SCENE iv. (iv. ii. 105-7.) 

The snatches in his voice, 

And burst of speaking, were as his ; I'm absolute 
'Twos very Cloten. 

This is one of our authour's strokes of observation. 
An abrupt and tumultuous utterance very frequently 
accompanies a confused and cloudy understanding. 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. ii. 258-81.) 

For the obsequies of Fidele, a song was written by 
my unhappy friend, Mr. William Collins of Chichester, 
a man of uncommon learning and abilities. I shall 
give it a place at the end in honour of his memory. 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. i foil.) 

POSTHUMOUS. Tea, bloody cloth, &c. 

This is a soliloquy of nature, uttered when the 
effervescence of a mind agitated and perturbed spon- 
taneously and inadvertently discharges itself in words. 
The speech, throughout all its tenour, if the last 
conceit be excepted, seems to issue warm from the 


heart. He first condemns his own violence ; then 
tries to disburden himself, by imputing part of the 
crime to Pisanio ; he next sooths his mind to an 
artificial and momentary tranquillity, by trying to 
think that he has been only an instrument of the gods 
for the happiness of Imogen. He is now grown reason- 
able enough to determine, that having done so much 
evil he will do no more ; that he will not fight against 
the country which he has already injured ; but as life 
is not longer supportable, he will die in a just cause, 
and die with the obscurity of a man who does not think 
himself worthy to be remembered. 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. iv. 26-8.) 

Great Powers, 

If you will take this audit, take this life, 
And cancel those cold bonds. 

This equivocal use of bonds is another instance of 
our authour's infelicity in pathetick speeches. 

This Play has many just sentiments, some natural 
dialogues, and some pleasing ocenes, but they are ob- 
tained at the expence of much incongruity. 

To remark the folly of the fiction, the absurdity of 
the conduct, the confusion of the names and manners 
of different times, and the impossibility of the events 
in any system of life, were to waste criticism upon 
unresisting imbecillity, upon faults too evident for 
detection, and too gross for aggravation. 

1 84 


ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 23.) Cold palsies. 

This catalogue of loathsome maladies ends in the 
folio at cold palsies. This passage, as it stands, is in 
the quarto ; the retrenchment was in my opinion 

It may be remarked, though it proves nothing, that, 
of the few alterations made by Milton in the second 
edition of his wonderful poem, one was, an enlarge- 
ment of the enumeration of diseases. 

ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. iii. 23.) 

CASSANDRA. It is the purpose that makes strong the vow. 

The mad Prophetess speaks here with all the coolness 
and judgment of a skilful casuist. The essence of 
a lawful vow, is a lawful purpose, and the vow of which 
the end is wrong must not be regarded as cogent. 

This Play is more correctly written than most of 
Shakespeare's compositions, but it is not one of those 
in which either the extent of his views or elevation 
of his fancy is fully displayed. As the story abounded 
with materials, he has exerted little invention ; but he 
has diversified his characters with great variety, and 
preserved them with great exactness. His vicious 
characters sometimes disgust, but cannot corrupt, for 
both Cressida and Pandarus are detested and con- 
temned. The comick characters seem to have been the 
favourites of the writer, they are of the superficial 
kind, and exhibit more of manners than nature, but 
they are copiously filled and powerfully impressed. 

Shakespeare has in his story followed for the greater 
part the old book of Caxton, which was then very 


popular ; but the character of Thersites, of which it 
makes no mention, is a proof that this play was written 
after Chapman had published his version of Homer. 


ACT I. SCENE ii. (i. i. 181 foil.) 

Why then, brawling love! loving bate! &c. 

Of these lines neither the sense nor occasion is very 
evident. He is not yet in love with an enemy, and to 
love one and hate another is no such uncommon state, 
as can deserve all this toil of antithesis. 

ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 25.) 

Earth-treading stars that make dark HEAVEN'S light. 
This nonsense should be reformed thus, 

Earth-treading stars that make dark EVEN light. 


But why nonsense ? Is anything more commonly 
said, than that beauties eclipse the sun ? Has not Pope 
the thought and the word ? 

Sol through white curtains shot a timorous ray, 
And ope d those eyes that must eclipse the day. 

Both the old and the new reading are philosophical 
nonsense, but they are both, and both equally poetical 

ACT I. SCENE iii. (i. ii. 26-8.) 

Such comfort as do lusty young men feel. 
When well-appareVd April on the heel 
Of limping Winter treads. 

To say, and to say in pompous words, that a young 
man shall feel as much in an assembly of beauties, as 
young men feel in the month of April, is surely to waste 
sound upon a very poor sentiment. I read, 

Such comfort as do lusty yeomen feel. 


You shall feel from the sight and conversation of these 
ladies, such hopes of happiness and such pleasure, as 
the farmer receives from the spring, when the plenty 
of the year begins, and the prospect of the harvest 
fills him with delight. 

ACT I. SCENE iv. (i. iii. 92.) 

That in gold clasps locks in the golden Story. 

The golden story is perhaps the golden legend, a book 
in the darker ages of popery much read, and doubtless 
often exquisitely embellished, but of which Canus, 
one of the popish doctors, proclaims the author to 
have been homo ferrei oris, plumbei cordis. 

ACT I. SCENE vi. (i. v. 34.) Good cousin Capulet. 

This cousin Capulet is unkle in the paper of invitation, 
but as Capulet is described as old, cousin is probably 
the right word in both places. I know not how 
Capulet and his lady might agree, their ages were very 
disproportionate ; he has been past masking for thirty 
years, and her age, as she tells Juliet, is but eight and 


The use of this chorus is not easily discovered, it 
conduces nothing to the progress of the play, but 
relates what is already known, or what the next scenes 
will shew ; and relates it without adding the improve- 
ment of any moral sentiment. 

ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. vi. 15.) 

Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow. 

He that travels too fast is as long before he comes 
to the end of his journey, as he that travels slow. 
Precipitation produces mishap. 


ACT III. SCENE i. (in. i. 2.) The day is hot. 

It is observed that in Italy almost all assassinations 
are committed during the heat of summer. 

ACT III. SCENE iii. (in. i. 183.) Affection makes him false. 

The charge of falshood on Bentivolio, though pro- 
duced at hazard, is very just. The authour, who 
seems to intend the character of Bentivolio as good, 
meant perhaps to shew, how the best minds, in a state 
of faction and discord, are detorted to criminal 

ACT III. SCENE viii. (in. v. 84.) 

Andy yet, no Man like he doth grieve my heart. 

Juliet's equivocations are rather too artful for a 
mind disturbed by the loss of a new lover. 

ACT IV. SCENE ii. (iv. iii. 2-3.) 

Leave me to myself to-night ; 
For I have need of many orisons. 

Juliet plays most of her pranks under the appearance 
of religion : perhaps Shakespeare meant to punish her 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 3.) 

My bosom's Lord sits lightly on his throne, &c. 

These three lines are very gay and pleasing. But 
why does Shakespeare give Romeo this involuntary 
cheerfulness just before the extremity of unhappiness ? 
Perhaps to shew the vanity of trusting to those un- 
certain and casual exaltations or depressions, which 
many consider as certain foretokens of good and evil. 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. iii. 229.) 

FRIAR. / will be brief. 

It is much to be lamented that the Poet did not 


conclude the dialogue with the action, and avoid 
a narrative of events which the audience already knew. 

This play is one of the most pleasing of our Author's 
performances. The scenes are busy and various, the 
incidents numerous and important, the catastrophe 
irresistibly affecting, and the process of the action 
carried on with such probability, at least with such 
congruity to popular opinions, as tragedy requires. 

Here is one of the few attempts of Shakespeare to 
exhibit the conversation of gentlemen, to represent 
the airy sprightliness of juvenile elegance. Mr. Dry den 
mentions a tradition, which might easily reach his 
time, of a declaration made by Shakespeare, that he 
was obliged to kill Mercutio in the third act, lest he 
should have been killed by him. Yet he thinks him no 
such formidable person, but that he might have lived 
through the play, and died in his bed, without danger to 
a poet. Dry den well knew, had he been in quest of 
truth, that, in a pointed sentence, more regard is 
commonly had to the words than the thought, and is very seldom to be rigorously understood. 
Mer curio's wit, gaiety and courage, will always pro- 
cure him friends that wish him a longer life ; but his 
death is not precipitated, he has lived out the time 
allotted him in the construction of the play ; nor do 
I doubt the ability of Shakespeare to have continued 
his existence, though some of his sallies are perhaps out 
of the reach of Dry den ; whose genius was not very 
fertile of merriment, nor ductile to humour, but 
acute, argumentative, comprehensive, and sublime. 

The Nurse is one of the characters in which the 
Authour delighted : he has, with great subtilty of 
distinction, drawn her at once loquacious and secret, 
obsequious and insolent, trusty and dishonest. 

His comick scenes are happily wrought, but his 


pathetick strains are always polluted with some unex- 
pected depravations. His persons, however distressed^ 
have a conceit left them in their misery, a miserable 


ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 63.) 

He smote the steaded Polack on the ice. 

Polack was, in that age, the term for an inhabitant 
of Poland : Polaque, French. As in a translation of 
Passeratius\ epitaph on Henry III. of France, published 
by Camden : 

Whether thy chance or choice thee hither brings, 
Stay, passenger, and wail the best of kings. 
This little stone a great king's heart doth hold, 
Who ruVd the fickle French and Polacks bold : 
So frail are even the highest earthly things. 
Go, passenger, and wail the hap of kings. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 128.) // thou hast any sound. 

The speech of Horatio to the spectre is very elegant 
and noble, and congruous to the common traditions 
of the causes of apparitions. 

ACT I. SCENE i. (i. i. 153 foil.) Whether in sea or fire, &c. 

According to the pneumatology of that time, every 
element was inhabited by its peculiar order of spirits, 
who had dispositions different, according to their 
various places of abode. The meaning therefore is, 
that all spirits extravagant, wandering out of their 
element, whether aerial spirits visiting earth, or earthly 
spirits ranging the air, return to their station, to their 
proper limits in which they are confined. 


ACT 1. SCENE ix. (i. v. 154.) Swear by my sword. 

Mr. Garrick produced me a passage, I think, in 
Brantome, from which it appeared, that it was common 
to swear upon the sword, that is, upon the cross which 
the old swords had upon the hilt. 

ACT II. SCENE ii. (11.1.114-17.) 

It is as proper to our age 
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions, 
As it is common for the younger sort 
To lack discretion. 

This is not the remark of a weak man. The vice of 
age is too much suspicion. Men long accustomed to 
the wiles of life cast commonly beyond themselves, let 
their cunning go further than reason can attend it. 
This is always the fault of a little mind, made artful 
by long commerce with the world. 

ACT II. SCENE iv. (n. ii.) 

Polonius is a man bred in courts, exercised in business, 
stored with observation, confident of his knowledge, 
proud of his eloquence, and declining into dotage. 
His mode of oratory is truly represented as designed 
to ridicule the practice of those times, of prefaces that 
made no introduction, and of method that embar- 
rassed rather than explained. This part of his character 
is accidental, the rest is natural. Such a man is positive 
and confident, because he knows that his mind was 
once strong, and knows not that it is become weak. 
Such a man excels in general principles, but fails in the 
particular application. He is knowing in retrospect, 
and ignorant in foresight. While he depends upon his 
memory, and can draw from his repositories of know- 
ledge, he utters weighty sentences, and gives useful 
counsel ; but as the mind in its enfeebled state cannot 
be kept long busy and intent, the old man is subject to 


sudden dereliction of his faculities, he loses the order 
of his ideas, and entangles himself in his own thoughts, 
till he recovers the leading principle, and falls again 
into his former train. This idea of dotage encroaching 
upon wisdom, will solve all the phenomena of the 
character of Polonius. 

ACT II. SCENE vi. (n. ii. 269.) The shadow of a dream. 

Shakespeare has accidentally inverted an expression 
of Pindar, that the state of humanity is o-Kias ovap, 
the dream of a shadow. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 56 foil.) To be, or not to be f 

Of this celebrated soliloquy, which bursting from 
a man distracted with contrariety of desires, and over- 
whelmed with the magnitude of his own purposes, is 
connected rather in the speaker's mind, than on his 
tongue, I shall endeavour to discover the train, and 
to shew how one sentiment produces another. 

Hamlet, knowing himself injured in the most enor- 
mous and atrocious degree, and seeing no means of 
redress, but such as must expose him to the extremity of 
hazard, meditates on his situation in this manner : 
Before I can form any rational scheme of action under 
this pressure of distress, it is necessary to decide, whether, 
after our present state, we are to be or not to be. That 
is the question, which, as it shall be answered, will 
determine, whether "'tis nobler, and more suitable to the 
dignity of reason, to suffer the outrages of fortune patiently, 
or to take arms against them, and by opposing end them, 
though perhaps with the loss of life. If to die, were to 
sleep, no more, and by a sleep to end the miseries of our 
nature, such a sleep were devoutly to be wished ; but 
if to sleep in death, be to dream, to retain our powers of 
sensibility, we must pause to consider, in that sleep of 
death what dreams may come. This consideration 


makes calamity so long endured ; for who would bear 
the vexations of life, which might be ended by a bare 
bodkin, but that he is afraid of something in unknown 
futurity? This fear it is that gives efficacy to con- 
science, which, by turning the mind upon this regard, 
chills the ardour of resolution, checks the vigour of 
enterprise, and makes the current of desire stagnate in 

We may suppose that he would have applied these 
general observations to his own case, but that he 
discovered Ophelia. 

ACT III. SCENE ii. (in. i. 70.) The whips and scorns of time. 

It may be remarked, that Hamlet, in his enumeration 
of miseries, forgets, whether properly or not, that he 
is a prince, and mentions many evils to which inferior 
stations only are exposed. 

ACT III. SCENE n. (in. i. 89). Nymph, in thy orisons, &c. 

This is a touch of nature. Hamlet, at the sight of 
Ophelia, does not immediately recollect, that he is 
to personate madness, but makes her an address grave 
and solemn, such as the foregoing meditation excited 
in his thoughts. 


I know not why our editors should, with such 
implacable anger, persecute our predecessors. Oi 
vKpo\ M boLKVova-iv, the dead it is true can make no 
resistance, they may be attacked with great security ; 
but since they can neither feel nor mend, the safety 
of mauling them seems greater than the pleasure ; 
nor perhaps would it much misbeseem us to remember, 
amidst our triumphs over the nonsensical and the sense- 
less, that we likewise are men ; that debemur morti, 
and as Swift observed to Burnet, shall soon be among the 
dead ourselves. 


ACT III. SCENE ix. (HI. iii. 94-5.) 

That his soul may be as damn'd and black 
As bell, whereto it goes. 

This speech, in which Hamlet, represented as 
a virtuous character, is not content with taking blood 
for blood, but contrives damnation for the man that 
he would punish, is too horrible to be read or to be 

ACT IV. SCENE v. (iv. v. 84.) In hugger mugger to interr him. 
All the modern editions that I have consulted give it, 
In private to inter him ; 

That the words now replaced are better, I do not 
undertake to prove ; it is sufficient that they are 
Shakespeare's : If phraseology is to be changed as 
words grow uncouth by disuse, or gross by vulgarity, 
the history of every language will be lost ; we shall no 
longer have the words of any authour ; and, as these 
alterations will be often unskilfully made, we shall in 
time have very little of his meaning. 

ACT IV. SCENE ix. (iv. vii. 20-1.) 

Would) like the spring that turneth wood to stone, 
Convert his gyves to graces. 

This simile is neither very seasonable in the deep 
interest of this conversation, nor very accurately 
applied. If the spring had changed base metals to 
gold, the thought had been more proper. 

ACT V. SCENE i. (v. i. 84-5.) 

This might be the pate of a politician, which this ass o'er-offices. 

In the quarto, for over-offices is, over-reaches, which 
agrees better with the sentence. I believe both the 
words were Shakespeare's. An authour in revising his 
work, when his original ideas have faded from his 



mind, and new observations have produced new 
sentiments, easily introduces images which have been 
more newly impressed upon him, without observing 
their want of congruity to the general texture of his 
original design. 

ACT V. SCENE ii. (v. i. 254.) 

Allowed her virgin RITES. 
The old quarto reads virgin GRANTS. 

I have been informed by an anonymous corre- 
spondent, that crants is the German word for garlands, 
and I suppose it was retained by us from the Saxons. 
To carry garlands before the bier of a maiden, and to 
hang them over her grave, is still the practice in rural 

Crants therefore was the original word, which the 
authour, discovering it to be provincial, and perhaps 
not understood, changed to a term more intelligible, 
but less proper. Maiden rites give no certain or 
definite image. He might have put maiden wreaths, 
or maiden garlands, but he perhaps bestowed no 
thought upon it, and neither genius nor practice will 
always supply a hasty writer with the most proper 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 6-7.) 

And prais'd be rashness for it. 

Hamlet, delivering an account of his escape, begins 

with saying, That he rashly and then is carried 

into a reflection upon the weakness of human wisdom. 

I rashly praised be rashness for it Let us not think 

these events casual, but let us know, that is, take notice 
and remember, that we sometimes succeed by indis- 
cretion, when we fail by deep -plots, and infer the 
perpetual superintendence and agency of the Divinity. 
The observation is just, and will be allowed by every 


human being who shall reflect on the course of his own 

ACT V. SCENE iii. (v. ii. 41-2.) 

As Peace should still her wheaten garland wear, 
And stand a COMMA 'tween their amities ; 

The expression of our authour is, like many of his 
phrases, sufficiently constrained and affected, but it 
is not incapable of explanation. The Comma is the 
note of connection and continuity of sentences ; the 
Period is the note of abruption and disjunction. Shake- 
speare had it perhaps in his mind to write, That unless 
England complied with the mandate, war should put 
a period to their amity ; he altered his mode of diction, 
and thought that, in an opposite sense, he might put, 
That Peace should stand a Comma between their amities. 
This is not an easy style ; but is it not the style of 
Shakespeare ? 

ACT V. SCENE v. (v. ii. 240.) 

HAMLET. Give me your pardon. Sir. I've done you wrong. 

I wish Hamlet had made some other defence ; it is 
unsuitable to the character of a good or a brave man, 
to shelter himself in falsehood. 

If the dramas of Shakespeare were to be charac- 
terised, each by the particular excellence which 
distinguishes it from the rest, we must allow to the 
tragedy of Hamlet the praise of variety. The incidents 
are so numerous, that the argument of the play would 
make a long tale. The scenes are interchangeably 
diversified with merriment and solemnity ; with merri- 
ment that includes judicious and instructive observa- 
tions, and solemnity, not strained by poetical violence 
above the natural sentiments of man. New characters 
appear from time to time in continual succession, 

libiting various forms of life and particular modes 

O 2 


of conversation. The pretended madness of Hamlet 
causes much mirth, the mournful distraction of Ophelia 
fills the heart with tenderness, and every personage 
produces the effect intended, from the apparition 
that in the first act chills the blood with horror, to 
the fop in the last, that exposes affectation to just 

The conduct is perhaps not wholly secure against 
objections. The action is indeed for the most part in 
continual progression, but there are some scenes which 
neither forward nor retard it. Of the feigned madness 
of Hamlet there appears no adequate cause, for he does 
nothing which he might not have done with the 
reputation of sanity. He plays the madman most, 
when he treats Ophelia with so much rudeness, which 
seems to be useless and wanton cruelty. 

Hamlet is, through the whole play, rather an instru- 
ment than an agent. After he has, by the stratagem 
of the play, convicted the King, he makes no attempt 
to punish him, and his death is at last effected by an 
incident which Hamlet has no part in producing. 

The catastrophe is not very happily produced ; the 
exchange of weapons is rather an expedient of necessity, 
than a stroke of art. A scheme might easily have been 
formed, to kill Hamlet with the dagger, and Laertes 
with the bowl. 

The poet is accused of having shewn little regard to 
poetical justice, and may be charged with equal neglect 
of poetical probability. The apparition left the 
regions of the dead to little purpose ; the revenge which 
he demands is not obtained but by the death of him 
that was required to take it ; and the gratification 
which would arise from the destruction of an usurper 
and a murderer, is abated by the untimely death of 
Ophelia, the young, the beautiful, the harmless, and 
the pious. 


ACT I. SCENE viii. (i. iii. 134 foil.) 

/ spoke of most disastrous chances. 
Of moving accidents by flood and field ; 

Whoever ridicules this account of the progress of 
love, shews his ignorance, not only of history, but of 
nature and manners. It is no wonder that, in any 
age, or in any nation, a lady, recluse, timorous, and 
delicate, should desire to hear of events and scenes 
which she could never see, and should admire the man 
who had endured dangers, and performed actions, 
which, however great, were yet magnified by her 

ACT II. SCENE viii. (n. i. 308-9.) 

The thought whereof 
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards. 

This is philosophical. Mineral poisons kill by 

ACT III. SCENE v. (in. iii. 90.) Excellent Wretch I 

The meaning of the word wretch, is not generally 
understood. It is now, in some parts of England, 
a term of the softest and fondest tenderness. It 
expresses the utmost degree of amiableness, joined 
with an idea, which perhaps all tenderness includes, 
of feebleness, softness, and want of protection. Othello, 
considering Desdemona as excelling in beauty and 
virtue, soft and timorous by her sex, and by her 
situation absolutely in his power, calls her, Excellent 
Wretch. It may be expressed, 

Dear, harmless, helpless Excellence. 


ACT III. SCENE v. (HI. iii. 206.) 

She did deceive her father, marrying you. 

This and the following argument of lago ought to 
be deeply impressed on every reader. Deceit and 
falsehood, whatever conveniences they may for a time 
promise or produce, are, in the sum of life, obstacles 
to happiness. Those who profit by the cheat, distrust 
the deceiver, and the act by which kindness was sought, 
puts an end to confidence. 

The same objection may be made with a lower 
degree of strength against the imprudent generosity 
of disproportionate marriages. When the first heat 
of passion is over, it is easily succeeded by suspicion, 
that the same violence of inclination which caused one 
irregularity, may stimulate to another ; and those 
who have shewn, that their passions are too powerful 
for their prudence, will, with very slight appearances 
against them, be censured, as not very likely to restrain 
them by their virtue. 

ACT III. SCENE vi. (HI. iii. 262-3.) 

Let her down the wind 
To prey at fortune. 

The falconers always let fly the hawk against the 
wind ; if she flies with the wind behind her, she 
seldom returns. If therefore a hawk was for any 
reason to be dismissed, she was let down the wind, and 
from that time shifted for herself, and preyed at 
fortune. This was told me by the late Mr. Clark. 

ACT III. SCENE xi. (HI. iv. 102.) 

'Tis not a year, or two, shews us a man. 
From this line it may be conjectured, that the 
authour intended the action of this play to be con- 
sidered as longer than is marked by any note of time. 
Since their arrival at Cyprus, to which they were hurried 


on their wedding-night, the fable seems to have been 
in one continual progress, nor can I see any vacuity 
into which a year or two, or even a month or two, 
could be put. On the night of Othello's arrival, a feast 
was proclaimed ; at that feast Cassio was degraded, 
and immediately applies to Desdemona to get him 
restored. lago indeed advises Othello to hold him off 
a while, but there is no reason to think, that he has 
been held off long. A little longer interval would 
increase the probability of the story, though it might 
violate the rules of the drama. 

ACT IV. SCENE i. (iv. i. 40-2.) 

Nature would not invest herself in such shadowing passion 
without some instruction. 

There has always prevailed in the world an opinion, 
that when any great calamity happens at a distance, 
notice is given of it to the sufferer by some dejection 
or perturbation of mind, of which he discovers no 
external cause. This is ascribed to that general com- 
munication of one part of the universe with another, 
which is called sympathy and antipathy ; or to the 
secret monition, instruction, and influence of a superior 
Being, which superintends the order of Nature and 
of life. Othello says, Nature could not invest herself in 
such shadowing 'passion, without instruction. It is not 
words that shakes me thus. This passion which spreads 
its clouds over me is the effect of some agency more 
than the operation of words ; it is one of those notices 
which men have of unseen calamities. 

ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. ii. 21-2.) 

This Sorrow 's heavenly ; 
It strikes, where it doth love. 

I wish these two lines could be honestly ejected. It 
is the fate of Shakespeare to counteract his own pathos! 


ACT V. SCENE vi. (v. ii. 63-5.) 

Ob perjured woman ! thou dost stone my heart. 
And mak'st me call, what I intend to do, 
A murder^ which 1 thought a sacrifice. 

This line is difficult. Thou hast hardened my heart, 
and makest me kill thee with the rage of a murderer, 
when / thought to have sacrificed thee to justice with 
the calmness of a priest striking a victim. 

It must not be omitted, that one of the elder 
quarto's reads, thou dost stone thy heart ; which I 
suspect to be genuine. The meaning then will be, 
thou freest me to dismiss thee from the world in the 
state of the murdered without preparation for death, 
when I intended that thy punishment should have been 
a sacrifice atoning for thy crime. 

I am glad that I have ended my revisal of this dread- 
ful scene. It is not to be endured. 

The beauties of this play impress themselves so 
strongly upon the attention of the reader, that they 
can draw no aid from critical illustration. The fiery 
openness of Othello^ magnanimous, artless, and credu- 
lous, boundless in his confidence, ardent in his 
affection, inflexible in his resolution, and obdurate 
in his revenge ; the cool malignity of lago, silent in 
his resentment, subtle in his designs, and studious 
at once of his interest and his vengeance ; the soft 
simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit, and con- 
scious of innocence, her artless perseverance in her 
suit, and her slowness to suspect that she can be 
suspected, are such proofs of Shakespeare's skill in 
human nature, as, I suppose, it is vain to seek in any 
modern writer. The gradual progress which lago 
makes in the Moor's conviction, and the circumstances 
which he employs to inflame him, are so artfully 
natural, that, though it will perhaps not be said of him 


as he says of himself, that he is a man not easily jealous, 
yet we cannot but pity him when at last we find him 
perplexed in the extreme. 

There is always danger lest wickedness conjoined 
with abilities should steal upon esteem, though it 
misses of approbation ; but the character of lago is so 
conducted, that he is from the first scene to the last 
hated and despised. 

Even the inferiour characters of this play would be 
very conspicuous in any other piece, not only for their 
justness but their strength. Cassio is brave, benevo- 
lent, and honest, ruined only by his want of stubborn- 
ness to resist an insidious invitation. Rodorigo's 
suspicious credulity, and impatient submission to the 
cheats which he sees practised upon him, and which 
by persuasion he suffers to be repeated, exhibit a strong 
picture of a weak mind betrayed by unlawful desires, 
to a false friend ; and the virtue of ^Emilia is such as 
we often find, worn loosely, but not cast off, easy to 
commit small crimes, but quickened and alarmed at 
atrocious villanies. 

The Scenes from the beginning to the end are busy, 
varied by happy interchanges, and regularly promoting 
the progression of the story ; and the narrative in the 
end, though it tells but what is known already, yet is 
necessary to produce the death of Othello. 

Had the scene opened in Cyprus, and the preceding 
incidents been occasionally related, there had been 
little wanting to a drama of the most exact and scrupu- 
lous regularity. 


The Rambler, No. 168.) 


Frons prima multos, rara mens intelligit 

Quod interiore condidit cura angulo. PH^DRUS. 

The tinsel glitter, and the specious mien, 
Delude the most ; few pry behind the scene. 

IT has been observed by Boileau, that " a mean 
or common thought expressed in pompous diction, 
generally pleases more than a new or noble sentiment 
delivered in low and vulgar language ; because the 
number is greater of those whom custom has enabled 
to judge of words, than whom study has qualified to 
examine things." 

This solution might satisfy, if such only were offended 
with meanness of expression as are unable to distinguish 
propriety of thought, and to separate propositions or 
images from the vehicles by which they are conveyed 
to the understanding. But this kind of disgust is by 
no means confined to the ignorant or superficial; it 
operates uniformly and universally upon readers of all 
classes ; every man, however profound or abstracted, 
perceives himself irresistibly alienated by low terms ; 
they who profess the most zealous adherence to truth 
are forced to admit that she owes part of her charms 
to her ornaments ; and loses much of her power over 
the soul, when she appears disgraced by a dress uncouth 
or ill adjusted. 

We are all offended by low terms, but are not dis- 
gusted alike by the same compositions, because we do 
not all agree to censure the same terms as low. No 
word is naturally or intrinsically meaner than another ; 


our opinion therefore of words, as of other things 
arbitrarily and capriciously established, depends wholly 
upon accident and custom. The cottager thinks those 
apartments splendid and spacious, which an inhabitant 
of palaces will despise for their inelegance ; and to 
him who has passed most of his hours with the delicate 
and polite, many expressions will seem sordid, which 
another, equally acute, may hear without offence ; 
but a mean term never fails to displease him to whom 
it appears mean, as poverty is certainly and invariably- 
despised, though he who is poor in the eyes of some, 
may, by others, be envied for his wealth. 

Words become low by the occasions to which they 
are applied, or the general character oi. them who use 
them ; and the disgust which they produce, arises 
from the revival of those images with which they are 
commonly united. Thus if, in the most solemn dis- 
course, a phrase happens to occur which has been 
successfully employed in some ludicrous narrative, 
the gravest auditor finds it difficult to refrain from 
laughter, when they who are not prepossessed by the 
same accidental association, are utterly unable to guess 
the reason of his merriment. Words which convey 
ideas of dignity in one age, are banished from elegant 
writing or conversation in another, because they are 
in time debased by vulgar mouths, and can be no 
longer heard without the involuntary recollection of 
unpleasing images. 

When Macbeth is confirming himself in the horrid 
purpose of stabbing his king, he breaks out amidst his 
emotions into a wish natural to a murderer : 
Come, thick night ! 

And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, 

That my keen knife see not the wound it makes ; 

Nor heav'n peep through the blanket of the dark, 

To cry, Hold! hold! 


In this passage is exerted all the force of poetry, that 
force which calls new powers into being, which em- 
bodies sentiment, and animates matter ; yet, perhaps, 
scarce any man now peruses it without some disturb- 
ance of his attention from the counteraction of the 
words to the ideas. What can be more dreadful than 
to implore the presence of night, invested, not in 
common obscurity, but in the smoke of hell? Yet 
the efficacy of this invocation is destroyed by the 
insertion of an epithet now seldom heard but in the 
stable, and dun night may come or go without any 
other notice than contempt. 

If we start into raptures when some hero of the 
Iliad tells us that bopv pafrcrai, his lance rages with 
eagerness to destroy ; if we are alarmed at the terrour 
of the soldiers commanded by Geesar to hew down the 
sacred grove, who dreaded, says Lucan, lest the axe 
aimed at the oak should fly back upon the striker : 

Si robora sacra jerirent, 

In sua credebant redituras membra secures, 
None dares with impious steel the grove to rend, 
Lest on himself the destin'd stroke descend ; 

we cannot surely but sympathise with the horrours of 
a wretch about to murder his master, his friend, his 
benefactor, who suspects that the weapon will refuse 
its office, and start back from the breast which he is 
preparing to violate. Yet this sentiment is weakened 
by the name of an instrument used by butchers and 
cooks in the meanest employments : we do not imme- 
diately conceive that any crime of importance is to 
be committed with a knife ; or who does not, at last, 
from the long habit of connecting a knife with sordid 
offices, feel aversion rather than terrour? 

Macbeth proceeds to wish, in the madness of guilt, 
that the inspection of heaven may be intercepted, 


and that he may, in the involutions of infernal dark- 
ness, escape the eye of Providence. This is the utmost 
extravagance of determined wickedness ; yet this is so 
debased by two unfortunate words, that while I en- 
deavour to impress on my reader the energy of the 
sentiment, I can scarce check my risibility, when the 
expression forces itself upon my mind ; for who, 
without some relaxation of his gravity, can hear of the 
avengers of guilt peeping through a blanket ? 

These imperfections of diction are less obvious to 
the reader, as he is less acquainted with common 
usages ; they are therefore wholly imperceptible to 
a foreigner, who learns our language from books, and 
will strike a solitary academick less forcibly than 
a modish lady. 

Among the numerous requisites that most concur to 
complete an author, few are of more importance than 
an early entrance into the living world. The seeds 
of knowledge may be planted in solitude, but must be 
cultivated in publick. Argumentation may be taught 
in colleges, and theories formed in retirement ; but 
the artifice of embellishment, and the powers of 
attraction, can be gained only by general converse. 

An acquaintance with prevailing customs and 
fashionable elegance is necessary likewise for other 
purposes. The injury that grand imagery suffers 
from unsuitable language, personal merit may fear from 
rudeness and indelicacy. When the success of Mneas 
depended on the favour of the queen upon whose 
coasts he was driven, his celestial protectress thought 
him not sufficiently secured against rejection by his 
piety or bravery, but decorated him for the interview 
with preternatural beauty. Whoever desires, for his 
writings or himself, what none can reasonably con- 
temn, the favour of mankind, must add grace to 
strength, and make his thoughts agreeable as well as 



useful. Many complain of neglect who never trie4 
to attract regard. It cannot be expected that the 
patrons of science or virtue should be solicitous to dis- 
cover excellencies, which they who possess them shade 
and disguise. Few have abilities so much needed by 
the rest of the world as to be caressed on their own 
terms ; and he that will not condescend to recommend 
himself by external embellishments, must submit to 
the fate of just sentiment meanly expressed, and be 
ridiculed and forgotten before he is understood. 





Johnson , Samuel , 
Johnson on 

Shakespeare :